The latest news report stated Americans were more apt to die from an opioid overdose than heart disease or cancer in 2019. 

Having worked in the Alcohol and Other Drugs of Abuse field for over thirty years – experiencing the cocaine epidemic, crack cocaine crisis, legalization of marijuana, and learned about the heroin endemic, I decided to explore what makes the current drug crisis more dangerous than past drug overdose situations.

Why are more people now dying from opioids than they did of heroin in the sixties and seventies or crack cocaine in the eighties and nineties?

Could it be that social media and the quick access to news makes the current crisis appear to be more deadly than other drug abuse epidemics?

According to portions of an article printed in the Chicago Tribune, January 15, 2019, written by Mike Stobbe, Associated Press, New York, October 28, 2017, “Alcohol and cigarettes were — and remain — the nation’s primary addictions. Both kill far more people than drugs. But since the middle of the century, there’s been wave after wave of other drug abuse outbreaks.

“In the early 1900s cocaine shifted from a consumer fad into a reviled epidemic, as physicians began documenting addiction problems and police chiefs linked recreational cocaine use to prostitution and violent crime.

“It led to the first national effort to contain a drug epidemic: In 1914, Congress passed the Harrison Act, which said cocaine and heroin could be sold only as prescription medicine, not in over-the-counter remedies or in consumer products.

“In 1900, when cocaine and heroin were legal and popular, there were 250,000 Americans with drug addiction, according to one historical estimate.

“That was about 1 in 300 Americans. The estimate today is 1 in 133, and the drugs are deadlier than ever. (Emphasis added)

“In the 1960s and 1970s, heroin use surged, prompted in part by Vietnam War soldiers who were exposed to it while fighting overseas.

“Unlike the doctor-driven previous drug epidemics, this one victimized poor inner-city neighborhoods most.”

Read next Saturday’s post for part two of “The Opioid Crisis,” and Mike Stobbe’s article.