Last month, a White House panel declared the nation's epidemic of opioid abuse and deaths "a national public health emergency," a designation usually assigned to natural disasters.
A disaster is indeed what it is, with 142 Americans dying daily from drug overdoses, a fourfold increase since 1999, more than the number of people killed by gun homicides and vehicular crashes combined. A 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that 3.8 million Americans use opioids for nonmedical reasons every month.
Lest you think that people seeking chemically induced highs are solely responsible for the problem, physicians and dentists who prescribe opioids with relative abandon, and patients and pharmacists who fill those prescriptions, lend a big helping hand. The number of prescriptions for opioids jumped from 76 million in 1991 to 219 million two decades later. They are commonly handed to patients following all manner of surgery, whether they need them or not.
A new review of six studies by Dr. Mark C. Bicket and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that among 810 patients who underwent seven different kinds of operations, 42 percent to 71 percent failed to use the opioids they received, and 67 percent to 92 percent still had the unused drugs at home.