Which of the Following Statements are True?
- Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.
- The United States has the highest percentage of drug-related deaths in the world.
- Americans are more likely to die from drug overdose than from car accidents or firearms.
- Prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl are some of the primary causes of opioid addiction.
- This is a serious problem, but it doesn't affect folks like me.
How did you do? If you answered True for statements 1 through 4 and False for statement 5, give yourself an "A" for awareness. Opioid addiction is a huge and growing problem for our country - one that is affecting men and women of all ages, races, and socioeconomic status.
What are the Facts?
Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids, which include prescription pain killers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. The misuse of and addiction to opioids is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare. Reversing the trend of opioid addiction and death from overdoses will require a concerted, collaborative effort among medical, education, social services and law enforcement communities.
The following information is provided for FBICAAA members and Chapter leaders as a conversation starter for how FBICAAA Chapters can work with their local Field Offices to raise awareness of the causes of opioid addiction, as well as forge community partnerships to find solutions that reverse the trend.
Chasing the Dragon
A recent documentary by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency titled Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict depicts the lives of several opioid addicts. The phrase "chasing the dragon" refers to a way of smoking heroin. It usually involves placing powdered heroin on foil and heating it from below with a lighter. The heroin turns to a sticky liquid and wriggles around like a Chinese dragon, thus the term "chasing the dragon."
The video was developed in an effort to combat the growing epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse, and was designed to educate students and young adults about the seductive and dangerous path to drug addiction. Let's take just a moment to look at the hard cold facts.
Some Sobering Statistics
In "The Numbers Behind America's Opioid Epidemic," an October 2018 article published by Nick Routley in Visual Capitalist, puts forward some thought-provoking statistics. An opioid is described as a drug having some properties characteristic of opiate narcotics but one that is not derived from opium. From empirical data, we glean that while opioid abuse is a nationwide problem, there are specific areas that are being hit harder by this epidemic. According to data released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the states having the highest rate of opioid-related overdose death rates are West Virginia at 43.40 deaths per 100,000 people, New Hampshire at 35.8, Ohio at 32.9, and Maryland and Washington, DC at 30.0. You can check the statistics for your state at
Are Prescription Painkillers to Blame?
In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive. A recent survey showed that one-third of people who abused prescription painkillers got pills directly from a physician. Receiving painkillers from a friend or family member was the most common gateway to abusing opioids.
Routley, in his article, points out that the sale of powerful painkillers are now dropping, in part because the risk of addiction has been widely publicized and also because of the crackdown on clinics and pharmacies that were over-dispensing painkillers. Addicts, however, turned to the streets when they lost access from medical professionals and found more potent, dangerous drugs.
The synthetic opioid fentanyl is thought to be a big contributor in the addiction factor because it is extremely potent and, because much of it is sourced illegally, the doses often exceed the 2 mg kill level. So overdose deaths related to opioids have skyrocketed in recent years. Of course death is the extreme symptom of the opioid addiction but there are over 11 million opioid misusers in the country. Drug addiction affects a user's work life, health, finances, freedom, family and friends.
So What Can We Do About It?
There is no silver bullet to stop the opioid epidemic, but we can each do our part.
- First we need to accept the fact that opioid addiction can and does affect all of us, even "folks like me."
- Second, if you have not done so, watch the FBI's Chasing the Dragon video. The language may be a bit shocking to some, but it gets the point across.
- Third, be sure to store your prescription medicines in a secure place at home (even the best kids will take a dare or try to experiment).
- Fourth, be knowledgeable about what's happening in your community - know your numbers and work within your FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association and local FBI Field Office to help educate schools, places of worship, neighborhood associations and other organizations about the dangers of opioid abuse.
Education and awareness are the key tools for the lay person to help keep the "dragon" at bay. Here are additional resources.
Want to Know More? Additional Resources
The Numbers Behind America's Opioid Epidemic: http://www.visualcapitalist.com/americas-opioid-epidemic/
Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict. https://www.fbi.gov/video-repository/newss-chasing-the-dragon-the-life-of-an-opiate-addict/view
Evidence-based Strategies for Preventing Opioid Overdose: What's Working in the United States. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/pdf/pubs/2018-evidence-based-strategies.pdf
Prescription for Disaster: How Teens Misuse Medicine. https://www.dea.gov/documents/2018/10/18/prescription-disaster
Report Illicit Pharmaceutical Activities: https://apps.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/rxaor/spring/main?execution=e1s1
National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. https://takebackday.dea.gov/
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