Opioid Crisis

August 6, 2021 • Volume 31, Issue 28
Can the tide be reversed?
By Bara Vaida


As the United States battled the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the opioid crisis worsened. Faced with job losses and social isolation, many Americans turned to alcohol and drugs to cope. The number of people dying from drug overdoses, including prescription painkillers, heroin, methamphetamines and counterfeit medications, reached a record of about 93,331 last year — creating the worst drug overdose crisis in American history. The deaths were driven in large part by the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which drug dealers from Mexico are mixing into the illicit drug supply to supercharge highs. In response to this crisis, President Biden is pursuing a number of measures, including considering criminal justice reform and moving more people to treatment rather than prison, and helping those who use drugs to do so more safely. But some officials say these efforts will encourage more drug use rather than halt the number of overdoses. Also controversial are federal and state restrictions on the prescribing of painkillers, because some patient advocates say people suffering from pain cannot get the opioids they need.

Photo of DEA agent Mike Davis and community health organizers moving boxes of pills and prescription drugs in Los Angeles on April 24, 2021. (AFP/Getty Images/Patrick T. Fallon)
Los Angeles community health organizers help a federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent move boxes of pills and prescription drugs, which will be discarded to prevent misuse as part of the agency's 20th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day in April. More than 93,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2020, the most in U.S. history. (AFP/Getty Images/Patrick T. Fallon)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Drug Abuse and Trafficking
Aug. 06, 2021  Opioid Crisis
Jul. 24, 2019  Opioid Addiction
Jun. 14, 2018  Opioid Addiction
Jun. 29, 2017  Drug Abuse
Oct. 07, 2016  Opioid Crisis
Jul. 19, 2016  Drug Abuse
May 02, 2014  Treating Addiction
Jun. 03, 2011  Teen Drug Use
Jun. 12, 2009  Legalizing Marijuana Updated
Dec. 12, 2008  Mexico's Drug War
Feb. 09, 2007  Combating Addiction
Jun. 02, 2006  War on Drugs
Jul. 15, 2005  Methamphetamine
Jul. 28, 2000  Drug-Policy Debate
Nov. 20, 1998  Drug Testing
Jan. 06, 1995  Treating Addiction
Mar. 19, 1993  War on Drugs
Feb. 23, 1990  Does the War on Drugs Need a New Strategy?
May 20, 1988  The Business of Illicit Drugs
Jan. 23, 1987  Experimental Drugs
Feb. 08, 1985  The Fight Against Drug Smuggling
Aug. 27, 1982  Cocaine: Drug of the Eighties
Jun. 11, 1982  Prescription-Drug Abuse
Jan. 23, 1976  Changing U.S. Drug Policy
Dec. 13, 1972  World Drug Traffic
May 27, 1970  Heroin Addiction
Jan. 27, 1965  Psychotoxic Drugs
Jul. 18, 1962  Narcotics Addiction: Punishment or Treatment
Sep. 05, 1956  Control of Drug Addiction
Mar. 28, 1951  Drug Addiction
Congress Actions
Consumer Behavior
Consumer Protection and Product Liability
Crime and Law Enforcement
Criminal Law Procedure and Due Process
General Social Trends
Infectious Diseases
Medical Profession and Personnel
Powers and History of the Presidency
Regulation and Deregulation
Substance Abuse