The number of opioid overdose deaths in 2015 was startling. Over 52,000 people were estimated to have died as a result of opioid overdose in just one year. That number surpassed, for the first time, the number of people who died as a result of a fatal car accident and those who died at the hand of gun violence. As the opioid epidemic took up an increasing amount of headline space, tension began to grow as 2017 carried on. Reports of tremendous loss of life spread from one region of the country to the next throughout 2016 and 2017. The New York Times made an early estimate in June of 2017 that the number may be no higher than 59,000, acknowledging the tragedy of another 7,000 deaths caused by opioid overdose. When more official numbers came just two months later, the number was significantly higher. Approximately 64,000 people died of drug overdose in 2016, many of them as a result of opioids. The amount of individuals who died as a result of Fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid, rose by over 500% in just three years. Over 20,000 people died of Fentanyl overdose in 2016.
What stood out to researchers, as well as toxicologists and coroners across the country, is that the presence of Fentanyl was not in the substance alone. Fentanyl, which is relatively colorless, odorless, and tasteless making it otherwise undetectable, was found in a variety of drugs. Heroin, crystal meth, and cocaine all were found in some cases to have traces of Fentanyl. People are dying of poly-substance overdose because of this synthetic opioid. As a result, the overdose rates are higher than they have been. The comparisons of quantity are unsettling. More people have died of opioid overdose than the AIDS epidemic and Crack epidemic claimed in their time. Perhaps most disturbing was this comparison of fact presented by Vox as indicated by their headline “In one year, drug overdoses killed more Americans than the entire Vietnam War Did”. “…More than 58,000 US soldiers died in the entire Vietnam War,” the article explains. The Vietnam War is historically recorded as lasting about 20 years.
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