The statistics surrounding the American opioid epidemic are becoming more and more alarming with each passing day, it seems. Two weeks ago, we cited a new report claiming that one in five millennial deaths can be attributed not just to drugs - but specifically to opioids.
The study is called “The Burden of Opioid-Related Mortality in the United States," published Friday in JAMA. Researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, found that all opiate deaths — which accounts for natural opiates, semi-synthetic/ humanmade opioids, and fully synthetic/ humanmade opioids — have increased a mindboggling 292 percent from 2001 through 2016, with one in every 65 deaths related to opioids by 2016. Men represented 70 percent of all opioid-related deaths by 2016, and the number was astronomically higher for millennials (24 and 35 years of age).
According to the study, one out of every five deaths among millennials in the United States is related to opioids. In contrast, opioid-related deaths for the same cohort accounted for 4 percent of all deaths in 2001.
And today Axios cited a new NBC News/GenForward poll revealing that nearly half of millennials (42%) have been impacted by the opioid crisis in some way, either because they have a friend or family member who is struggling with addiction, or because they themselves are addicted.
Why it matters: Millennials, ages 22 to 37, are expected to make up the largest generation in the U.S. by 2019. Overdose deaths are causing this group of individuals to die at a faster rate that those over 50 years old, according to the CDC.
By the numbers:
- White male and female millennials have been affected by the opioid epidemic the most — 54% know someone who is caught in the issue.
- 30% of black millennials say they know someone who has dealt with an opioid addiction. Asian-Americans 26%. Latinos 23%.
- More people who live in the Northeast part of the U.S. said they know someone who has dealt with opioid addiction than any other region. But about 40% of millennials in the Midwest, South and West still said yes to knowing someone.
Democrats and Republicans have been scrambling to pitch a harm-reduction program to help reduce the number of deaths, but many remain uncomfortable with the idea of needle-exchange vans and clinics that offer emergency services (like supervised injection sites) for addicts operating in their neighborhoods.
Furthermore, the political influence of the millennial generation is being affected by the crisis, as more young Americans are arrested (or are too busy feeding their addictions to care much about voting).
Across party lines, roughly half of young Republicans and half of young Democrats say they know somebody struggling with opioid addiction. The future of the epidemic could be greatly impacted by a series of bills wending through Congress right now: One bill seeks to crackdown on illicit fentanyl - a powerful synthetic - another seeks to remove unused prescriptions out of circulation. Another - what Axios describes as "possibly the most significant" - would lift the IMD exclusion, a ban on federal Medicaid money for mental health treatment, allowing adult opioid users to stay at a bed in an institution for 30 days.
Expanding access to opioid treatment would likely do the most to help improve conditions for addicts on the ground. But as it stands, having access to treatment isn't enough - because nearly all research shows that substance-abuse treatments like rehab are still deeply ineffective treatments for opioids.
When it comes to reducing the number of opioid overdoses, the solution put forth by one small-time Ohio politician still stands out: Just let the addicts die.