Current State of the Problem: Opioid Overdose Rates and Deaths

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Purpose of review: Overdose deaths have increased significantly over the last 5 years. This review analyzes the severity and nature of the epidemic, its impact on society, factors driving the increase in mortality, special populations disproportionately affected, and solutions to decrease overdose deaths. A thorough understanding of opioid overdose rates and deaths position the reader to respond most effectively in their sphere of influence. Recent findings: Final statistics for 2017 show a continued worsening of the epidemic. Recent studies focus on the evolving role of synthetic fentanyl, risk factors for fatal overdose, variation of mortality across demographic and socioeconomic regions, and the effectiveness of harm reduction strategies such as naloxone. Summary: The national overdose death rate continues to rise unabated with a 9.6% increase during 2017, with an estimated cost over $550 billion in 2019. There are, however, effective strategies to identify and treat individuals at risk for a fatal overdose. The root cause of addiction is the brain’s response to despair, social stressors, and societal structural inequities. It is unlikely we will see a significant decrease in addiction and its consequences until these root causes are addressed. Additional research is needed on the role of social determinants in addiction, strategies to treat incarcerated individuals, the role of suicidal ideation in fatal overdose, and risk factors, and frequency of non-fatal overdose.