The word epidemic gets tossed around lightly these days. From low-fat dieting and fake news to narcissism and drowning, everything is currently having an epidemic. But when it comes to opioid addiction, the term is pretty bang on. When 33,000 people die of opioid overdoses in the course of a year, something deadly serious and of epidemic proportions is obviously happening. Now the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows what states have been hit hardest by the epidemic, and the results are pretty surprising.
The States Tell a Story
According to The Washington Post, there roughly 10.4 deaths by opioid overdose for every 100,000 people. Yet these deaths aren’t evenly spread out across the country. For example, California had 2,018 opiate deaths in 2015 which is, granted, a huge number—but not next to a smaller, sparsely populated state like Kentucky, which reported 885 deaths. The map gets even more interesting to read when you see two highly concentrated areas for overdoses caused by “natural” or “semi-synthetic” opioids like Oxycodone: Utah and West Virginia, respectively. Conversely, deaths caused by synthetic opioids like fentanyl are almost exclusively an East Coast phenomenon, happening most in places like Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The East Coast is tops again when it comes to deaths by good old fashioned heroin, but Midwestern states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois have shockingly high numbers too.
Oh No, Ohio
The numbers that blew my mind are the ones from Ohio. I guess being a drug user from the 1990s, I don’t think of a place like sweet, little predominately-white Ohio as being a hotbed for heroin deaths, but my how things have changed! With a staggering 2,698 opiate deaths in 2015, the state racks up high numbers in all categories. Ohio’s 1,444 heroin overdoses, 1,234 synthetic opioid deaths (the most in the country by a landslide) and 690 caused by natural opiates in 2015 certainly qualify it for epidemic status. Consider this: about 1,500 more people died of opioid overdoses statewide than the current population of Fayette, Ohio. Ohio’s white males between the ages of 25 and 34 were hit hardest by the deaths, but the numbers were up in the 19 to 24 and 55-plus categories too. Entire small towns in the Buckeye State have been destroyed by opiate addiction and the fact that it isn’t just heroin or prescription drugs is symptomatic of a bigger, nationwide problem.
Make that “Epidemics”
The big takeaway from all of these statistics is that this epidemic is a mess. It’s a mess that happens to be not just one epidemic either. Sure, lawmakers can fight pill-popping in states like Tennessee and California, but that doesn’t begin to deal with places like Florida and Massachusetts that are currently losing hundreds of lives due to synthetic opioid overdoses. This means policymakers will have to think outside of the box and come up with solutions to this multi-tiered problem. Synthetic opioids, heroin and prescription drugs will all have to be addressed if we want to see an end to this epidemic anytime soon.
Attending meetings in different states, I’ve definitely seen the epidemic up close and personal. These people are dads and business owners—normal looking folks living otherwise normal lives. These aren’t the junkie stereotypes I knew back in the day. The reality is whether it’s those who fell victim to prescription-happy doctors or addicts who hit the motherlode because of now easier availability, there are thousands of addicts who need help and need it now. And these people can’t wait for the laws to change or for a slow-moving government to take care of the problem. So I guess it’s up to us, the lucky ones who got sober to leave the light on and be there when they arrive.
Sponsored DISCLAIMER: This is a paid advertisement for California Behavioral Health, LLC, a CA licensed substance abuse treatment provider and not a service provided by The Fix. Calls to this number are answered by CBH, free and without obligation to the consumer. No one who answers the call receives a fee based upon the consumer’s choice to enter treatment. For additional info on other treatment providers and options visit www.samhsa.gov.