Substance use disorders and the harms associated with these diseases are a serious, growing public health problem in the United States. Nearly 19,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses in 2014, and more than 10,500 people died from overdoses of heroin. In total, this translates to 78 lives lost each day from an opioid overdose.
Yet these deaths do not reflect the full public health impact of substance use disorders. Individuals who misuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to develop chronic health conditions, experience poorer health outcomes, and have contact with the criminal justice system. The costs are high: The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that illicit drug and alcohol abuse accounts for more than $400 billion annually related to health care, lost work productivity, and crime.
More than 21 million Americans have a substance use disorder. However, in 2014, only about 10 percent of these individuals received any kind of treatment—whether through self-help programs, inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, or doctors’ offices. Effective care, including access to programs that provide medication-assisted treatment, remains elusive for many patients.
Public health experts and policymakers are now calling for evidence-based strategies to prevent substance misuse and improve treatment options for people with substance use disorders. As part of this effort, Pew’s substance use prevention and treatment initiative develops and supports state and federal policies that would:
- Reduce the inappropriate use of prescription drugs while ensuring that patients have access to effective pain management.
- Expand access to effective treatment for substance use disorders, including through the increased use of drug and behavioral health therapies.
Our WorkView All
New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the number of deaths from opioid overdoses continues to rise, reaching more than 33,000 in 2015, the highest number ever recorded. Opioids, which include prescription drugs and illicitly manufactured heroin and fentanyl, accounted for more than 63 percent of all drug-related overdoses that year. Read More
As the opioid crisis continues to ravage communities across the United States, policymakers and public health officials are increasingly using new tools such as prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs)—state-based electronic databases that track the dispensing of certain controlled substances—to stem the misuse of prescription opioids and reduce overdose deaths. Read More
The prescription opioid epidemic poses major threats to the nation’s health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 19,000 people in the United States died from overdoses involving prescription opioids in 2014—a 16 percent increase from the previous year, and the highest number ever recorded. Read More