Since the year 2000, overdose deaths in the United States have tripled. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate as many as 65,000 overdose deaths in 2016, up from the record of 52,404 in 2015. The New York Times estimated that opioids killed more Americans in 2016 than the American casualties from the wars in both Vietnam and Iraq. The epidemic has spread across the boundaries of age, race, and economic class, destroying the lives of young and old, rich and poor.

While the scourge has made headlines as President Trump teased the idea of calling it a National Emergency, and opioids have taken the lives of celebrities like Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Nicole Smith, and Prince, the news cycle cannot keep up with the nearly 100 American deaths that occur every day.

As the leading cause of Accidental Death in the United States, Opioid overdoses now kill more Americans than automobile accidents, gun deaths, and HIV/AIDS.

Opioids started for palliative care

Opioids were most commonly used to ease pain after surgery and end of life suffering, yet as pharmaceutical companies sought to expand their market in the Nineties, they assured doctors of their products' safety for chronic pain. As the use of opioids expanded in the legal form of synthesized opium, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, addictions increased, resulting in profits for opioid prescriptions, reaching $11 billion in 2014 alone. Montogomery County, Ohio reports the most overdose deaths in the country per capita, with 86% dying from opiate overdoses in a state where 20% of the population were prescribed an opioid.

Addiction has expanded

While prescriptions have reportedly started to go down around the country, people who have become addicted are more prone to seek out cheaper sources of pain relief on the black market in the form of heroin and fentanyl. Although fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, was developed as an anesthetic and medical pain reliever in 1959, it was introduced as a daily-wear patch in the Nineties, then released in the form of lollipops, and is now synthesized through illegal markets without any oversight.

Overdose deaths from prescription opioids started to decline in 2011, and by 2016, medical examiners found that deaths caused by fentanyl surpassed those involving both prescription opioids and heroin.

The United States now leads the world in opioid consumption, with 5% of the world's population consuming 80% of the world's opioid supply and 99% of the world's hydrocodone. What measures must be taken in U.S. drug policy to curb this epidemic?