Drug Overdoses Are A Lot More Common Than You Think–Here’s Why

Unless it’s something that you have experienced personally, chances are good that you don’t find yourself thinking about drug overdoses all that often. Like, you’ll think about them in health class, when you learn about them, and maybe in a dramatic, overwrought movie or two, but in your daily life? Probably not.

But perhaps this should change. According to a report published in the New York Times earlier this week, more than 59,00 people in the United States died of drug overdoses in 2016. This is a 19 percent jump in overdose-related deaths, which makes it the biggest increase in U.S. history. It also means that drug overdoses are now more fatal than HIV/AIDS, guns, and car crashes. Experts say that these deaths are mainly related to opioids like painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl.

If  these numbers sound super high to you, it’s possible that the place where you live hasn’t been affected, since these overdoses also appear to be mainly regional. Areas east of the Mississippi saw the biggest increases in deaths, while numbers west of the Mississippi decreased or stayed the same.

This may seem comforting at first if you haven’t experienced it firsthand, but it’s concerning that the deaths are so highly and disproportionately concentrated in certain areas. It’s also troubling that, in many cases, addictions to opioids tend to stem from prescription-grade painkillers like Oxycontin. Many doctors prescribe Oxycontin or similar drugs after a surgery without making their patients aware of how addictive they can be, which means that it’s easy to get hooked, and later start using heroin. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, half of young people who inject heroin reported abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin. Because of this, some states like Ohio and Mississippi–both of which have been particularly affected by the opioid crisis–have filed lawsuits with the drug companies that make drugs like Oxycontin, saying that they aided the “national epidemic” of opioid abuse.

The takeaway here? Avoiding drug addiction has gotten a lot more complicated than peer pressure and just saying no when you’re offered something at a party. (After all, if it’s something that your doctor prescribes, or something that comes in a prescription bottle, it carries an illusion of safety that doesn’t come with other drugs.) Instead, it shows that it’s something that has to be implemented on a state and national level in order to find a viable solution.

What do you think of this research? Has any of it affected you? Let us know in the comments.

You can reach the author, Sara Hendricks, on Twitter and Instagram.

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