Drug Abuse
June 29, 2017
Can legislation help curb deaths and treat addiction?

Deaths due to opioid drug overdoses have increased nationwide, particularly in rural America and suburbia. Congress approved two bills in 2016 to fund anti-addiction programs, and state governments are working with federal authorities to address what they are calling a public health crisis of addiction to opioid painkillers and heroin. New challenges abound: Pockets of the country are seeing a rise in overdoses of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and an even deadlier new drug cocktail called “gray death.” President Trump has appointed New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie to lead a task force focused on combating opioid abuse.

An activist participates in the “Fed Up!” rally on the National Mall on Sept. 18, 2016, in Washington. (Getty Images/John Moore) An activist participates in the “Fed Up!” rally on the National Mall on Sept. 18, 2016, in Washington, in which participants called on Congress to allocate more money to address opioid addiction. More than 30,000 people die each year from overdosing on heroin or other opioids. (Getty Images/John Moore)

The photo was shocking. It showed a middle-aged man and woman, passed out from what police say were heroin overdoses, slumped in the front seat of a car, with the woman’s 4-year-old grandson in the back seat. Police were able to revive the couple, but the photo starkly illustrated the toll the opioid crisis is taking on Americans of all ages. 1

Dangerous mixes of heroin laced with fentanyl or other synthetic drugs have fueled an increase in drug-overdose deaths even as overall abuse is declining. “The number of people using is not growing,” says Dr. Kimberly Johnson, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “The number of overdose deaths [is] going up. That has to do with the drugs that people are using. We’re seeing a shift to a slightly higher use of heroin, and prescription drug use is decreasing.”