Back in February, President Trump held a particularly divisive press conference wherein he declared that America was “drug-infested” and that drugs were “becoming cheaper than candy bars.” But while the second part was a bit out-of-touch and prone to internet mockery, Trump’s remarks did manage to shed some light on a drug problem that is burning through the country: opioid addiction.
Drug overdoses have been one of the rising causes of death in the United States, causing 33,000 in 2015 alone. While heroin use continues to be an epidemic (with the death from overdoses tripling between 2010 and 2015), the use of prescription opioids accounted for almost half of those deaths.
We now know that overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths. Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report. Deaths from prescription opioids — drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone — have more than quadrupled since 1999.
The link between heroin and prescription painkillers is a problematic one, to be sure. They have a similar effect on the brain, and using one makes you more susceptible to getting hooked on the other, especially for young people. Heroin and fentanyl often go hand in hand as the prescription drug is obtainable legally and illegally and is “50 times stronger than pure heroin.”