Maura O’Neill

U.S. News


Solving the U.S. Opioid Crisis

After an extremely sharp increase in the number of people struggling with, and dying from, opioid addiction over the past few years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the burgeoning crisis a public health emergency in 2017.

What caused this crisis?

Starting in the late 1990s, drug manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that opioid pain relievers, which were highly effective at treating post-surgery pain and major injuries, were not a risk for long-term addiction. They were wrong.

Doctors and healthcare providers, believing opioids safe, effective and non-addictive, began prescribing these drugs more and more frequently. This increase led to widespread misuse of prescription opioid medications. As the widespread addiction grew, and prescriptions became harder and harder to obtain, non-prescription opioid use increased exponentially as well.

In 2018, it is estimated that 2 million Americans will suffer from opioid addiction. Families, communities, and companies across the nation are reeling from the devastating impact. For many, these addictions will cost their lives.

In addition to the terrible human costs of lives lost and families devastated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid abuse is a staggering $78.5 billion a year, encompassing the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice.

The Many Faces of Opioid Addiction

With the U.S. facing a drug crisis of unprecedented proportions, heartbreaking stories of addiction and it’s terrible aftermath pour in daily from every part of the country.

Though the opioid crisis has been particularly hard on males, roughly twice as many men died from opioid overdoses in 2016 compared to overdose rates for women. A young mother’s death on October 7 is a stark reminder that anyone can come under the pernicious influence of opioid addiction.

“Our beloved Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir died on Sunday, October 7,” her bereaved sister wrote in a moving obituary that went viral and touched millions. “While her death was unexpected, Madelyn suffered from drug addiction, and for years we feared her addiction would claim her life. We are grateful that when she died, she was safe and she was with her family.”

Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir was only 30-years old.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unveiled their detailed plan to address the growing epidemic.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a 5-point strategy to combat the opioid crisis.

  • Improving access to treatment and recovery services.
  • Promoting use of overdose-reversing drugs.
  • Strengthening our understanding of the epidemic through better public health surveillance.
  • Providing support for cutting edge research on pain and addiction.
  • Advancing better practices for pain management.

More recently, in June 2018, the House passed a package of 58 bills drafted to confront the opioid crisis. This was a historically significant effort by Congress to address a single drug crisis.

The House Ways and Means Committee has been actively pushing bipartisan legislation to solve the crisis; successfully passing 70 bills in the past two weeks designed to disrupt the supply chain of fentanyl, promote the education of doctors and patients on the negative effects of opioids, expand access to non-opioid alternatives, and combat abuse of opioids in hospitals and communities.