Men represented nearly 70 percent of all opioid deaths by 2016 while the 24-35 age group experienced the highest burden, researchers from Canada found.
Opioids are responsible for one out of every five deaths among young adults in the United States, according to a new study led by St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada.
The figure meant the proportion of opioid-related deaths had risen by 292 percent from 2001 to 2016. Findings of the study were published in JAMA Network Open on June 1.
“Despite the amount of attention that has been placed on this public health issue, we are increasingly seeing the devastating impact that early loss of life from opioids is having across the United States,” said Dr. Tara Gomes, a scientist in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of the hospital.
“In the absence of a multidisciplinary approach to this issue that combines access to treatment, harm reduction, and education, this crisis will impact the U.S. for generations.”
All deaths in the country that had taken place between 2001 and 2016 were reviewed using the Multiple Cause of Death Online Database on CDC Wonder. The researchers found the most dramatic increase in opioid-related deaths (both illicit and prescribed) in the 24-35 age group. By 2016, nearly 20 percent of all deaths in this age group were related to opioid use, a drastic rise from only 4 percent in 2001.
The epidemic can be traced back to the mid-1990s when prescription painkillers such as OxyContin were heavily marketed for everyday pain treatment. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, is said to have “successfully contributed to and capitalized on the medical establishment’s changing view of pain management,” according to a study in the Harvard Law & Policy Review.
“At the time, it wasn’t understood how addicting these prescription pain medications were,” said Michelle Lofwall, associate professor at the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine. “But they really hurt people here and across the nation.”
In recent efforts to tackle the addiction, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a nonopioid drug called Lucemyra for the treatment of opioid withdrawal symptoms in adults. For other ways to reduce the risk of addiction to prescription painkillers, patients are advised to take medications exactly as prescribed, involve a friend or family member to monitor the dose, and anticipate withdrawal symptoms.
Dr. Gomes and her team also found that opioid-related causes were responsible for 1,681,359 years of life lost prematurely in 2016. They highlight this number to exceed the years of life lost each year from hypertension, HIV/AIDS, and pneumonia in the United States.
“These numbers show us the dramatic impact of opioid-related harms across all demographics in the U.S.,” Dr. Gomes said. “We know this is not an isolated public health issue — it is one that spans across North America.”