Painkillers are killing America

You might remember House MD self-medicating on Vicodin to keep the pain in his leg at bay and allowing him to function as a brilliant docter. Vicodin is a painkiller that consists of a combination of two ingredients: hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Hydrocodone is an opioid, while acetaminophen (paracetamol) is a non-opioid analgesic. It is indicated for relief of moderate to severe pain.
Fentanyl is another potent, synthetic opioid pain medication with a rapid onset and short duration of action. It is approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. Fentanyl is more than 50 times more potent than morphine, thus increasing the risks for users. Fentanyl has emerged as the drug of choice in many parts of the United States and its legal and illegal use is now termed an 'epidemic' by scientists.
Opioid use has exploded in the US, after decades of doctors over-prescribing painkillers in the 1990s and 2000s. Authorities believe it is now pouring into the US, mostly directly from China through the mail, sometimes via Mexico.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that drug overdose deaths nearly tripled during 1999–2014[1]. Among 47,055 drug overdose deaths that occurred in 2014 in the United States, nearly 30,000 of these deaths involved an opioid. There are now more people killed by opioids than from bullets[2]. The numbers (read: deaths) keep rising, because in 2015 these were 52,404 drug overdose deaths, 33,091 of those involved the use of opioids[3]. Drug overdose deaths in 2016 are expected to exceed 64,000, representing a rate of 175 deaths a day.
Another factor is that opioids are often taken with other painkillers and alcohol, which also acts as a sedative.

[Update March 16, 2017] The Commission on Narcotic Drugs, part of the UN, has decided to help the US by adding two chemicals, used to make the drug Fentanyl, to an international list of controlled substances. It is hoped that it will help fight a wave of deaths by overdose in America. The substances are two precursors of Fentanyl: 4-anilino-N-phenethylpiperidine (ANPP) and N-phenethyl-4-piperidone (NPP). It also added a fentanyl analog called butyrfentanyl, a drug similar to fentanyl.

[1] Rose et al: Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2014 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) – 2016
[2] Washington Post: Heroin deaths surpass gun homicides for the first time, CDC data shows – 2016. See here
[1] Rose et al: Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) – 2016

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