The Opioid Overdose Crisis

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Page last updated June 10, 2020 by Doug McVay, Editor/Senior Policy Analyst.

11. Pain as a Public Health Problem

"Pain is a significant public health problem. Chronic pain alone affects approximately 100 million U.S. adults. Pain reduces quality of life, affects specific population groups disparately, costs society at least $560-635 billion annually (an amount equal to about $2,000 for everyone living in the United States), and can be appropriately addressed through population health-level interventions."

Institute of Medicine, "Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research" (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 2011), p. 5.
http://www.nap.edu/openbook.ph...

12. Growth of Fentanyl Related Deaths in the US

"Preliminary estimates of U.S. drug overdose deaths exceeded 60,000 in 2016 and were partially driven by a fivefold increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (excluding methadone), from 3,105 in 2013 to approximately 20,000 in 2016 (1,2). Illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50–100 times more potent than morphine, is primarily responsible for this rapid increase (3,4). In addition, fentanyl analogs such as acetylfentanyl, furanylfentanyl, and carfentanil are being detected increasingly in overdose deaths (5,6) and the illicit opioid drug supply (7). Carfentanil is estimated to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine (8). Estimates of the potency of acetylfentanyl and furanylfentanyl vary but suggest that they are less potent than fentanyl (9). Estimates of relative potency have some uncertainty because illicit fentanyl analog potency has not been evaluated in humans."

Julie K. O’Donnell, PhD; John Halpin, MD; Christine L. Mattson, PhD; Bruce A. Goldberger, PhD; R. Matthew Gladden, PhD. Deaths Involving Fentanyl, Fentanyl Analogs, and U-47700 — 10 States, July–December 2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Vol. 66. Centers for Disease Control. October 27, 2017.
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volum...

13. Prevalence of Chronic Pain in the US

"To estimate the prevalence of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain in the United States, CDC analyzed 2016 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data. An estimated 20.4% (50.0 million) of U.S. adults had chronic pain and 8.0% of U.S. adults (19.6 million) had high-impact chronic pain, with higher prevalences of both chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain reported among women, older adults, previously but not currently employed adults, adults living in poverty, adults with public health insurance, and rural residents."

Dahlhamer J, Lucas J, Zelaya, C, et al. Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults — United States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:1001–1006. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmw...
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volum...

14. CDC Opioid Prescribing Guidelines Are Making It Difficult For Cancer Patients To Obtain Pain Medication

"There has been a significant increase in cancer patients and survivors being unable to access their opioid prescriptions since 2016, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finalized opioid prescribing guidelines."

Percent of cancer patients and survivors who report being unable to get opioid prescription pain medication because the pharmacy did not have the particular drug in stock:
December 2016: 16%
May 2018: 41%

Percent of cancer patients and survivors who report being questioned by a pharmacist about why they needed their opioid pain medication:
December 2016: 16%
May 2018: 35%

Percent of cancer patients and survivors who report being unable to get their prescription pain medication because the pharmacist would not fill it for whatever reason even though the pharmacist had it in stock?
December 2016: 12%
May 2018: 27%

Percent of cancer patients and survivors who report being unable to get their opioid prescription pain medication because their insurance would not cover it:
December 2016: 11%
May 2018: 30%

Percent of cancer patients and survivors who report that their insurance company has limited them to just one pharmacy to go to for filling their opioid prescription pain medication.
December 2016: 14%
May 2018: 32%

Percent of cancer patients and survivors who report that their insurance company has reduced the number of times their opioid prescription can be refilled:
December 2016: 21%
May 2018: 36%

Percent of cancer patients and survivors who report that their insurance company has reduced the number of pills in their opioid prescription pain medication:
December 2016: 19%
May 2018: 25%

American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Patient Quality of Life Coalition, and Public Opinion Strategies. Key Findings Summary: Opioid Access Research Project. June 2018.
https://www.acscan.org/release...
https://www.acscan.org/sites/d...

15. Involvement of Fentanyl in Overdose Deaths in the US

"Fentanyl was detected in 56.3% of 5,152 opioid overdose deaths in the 10 states during July–December 2016 (Figure). Among these 2,903 fentanyl-positive deaths, fentanyl was determined to be a cause of death by the medical examiner or coroner in nearly all (97.1%) of the deaths. Northeastern states (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island) and Missouri** reported the highest percentages of opioid overdose deaths involving fentanyl (approximately 60%–90%), followed by Midwestern and Southern states (Ohio, West Virginia, and Wisconsin), where approximately 30%–55% of decedents tested positive for fentanyl. New Mexico and Oklahoma reported the lowest percentage of fentanyl-involved deaths (approximately 15%–25%). In contrast, states detecting any fentanyl analogs in >10% of opioid overdose deaths were spread across the Northeast (Maine, 28.6%, New Hampshire, 12.2%), Midwest (Ohio, 26.0%), and South (West Virginia, 20.1%) (Figure) (Table 1).

"Fentanyl analogs were present in 720 (14.0%) opioid overdose deaths, with the most common being carfentanil (389 deaths, 7.6%), furanylfentanyl (182, 3.5%), and acetylfentanyl (147, 2.9%) (Table 1). Fentanyl analogs contributed to death in 535 of the 573 (93.4%) decedents. Cause of death was not available for fentanyl analogs in 147 deaths.†† Five or more deaths involving carfentanil occurred in two states (Ohio and West Virginia), furanylfentanyl in five states (Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, West Virginia, and Wisconsin), and acetylfentanyl in seven states (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, West Virginia, and Wisconsin). U-47700 was present in 0.8% of deaths and found in five or more deaths only in Ohio, West Virginia, and Wisconsin (Table 1). Demographic characteristics of decedents were similar among overdose deaths involving fentanyl analogs and fentanyl (Table 2). Most were male (71.7% fentanyl and 72.2% fentanyl analogs), non-Hispanic white (81.3% fentanyl and 83.6% fentanyl analogs), and aged 25–44 years (58.4% fentanyl and 60.0% fentanyl analogs) (Table 2).

"Other illicit drugs co-occurred in 57.0% and 51.3% of deaths involving fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, respectively, with cocaine and confirmed or suspected heroin detected in a substantial percentage of deaths (Table 2). Nearly half (45.8%) of deaths involving fentanyl analogs tested positive for two or more analogs or fentanyl, or both. Specifically, 30.9%, 51.1%, and 97.3% of deaths involving carfentanil, furanylfentanyl, and acetylfentanyl, respectively, tested positive for fentanyl or additional fentanyl analogs. Forensic investigations found evidence of injection drug use in 46.8% and 42.1% of overdose deaths involving fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, respectively. Approximately one in five deaths involving fentanyl and fentanyl analogs had no evidence of injection drug use but did have evidence of other routes of administration. Among these deaths, snorting (52.4% fentanyl and 68.8% fentanyl analogs) and ingestion (38.2% fentanyl and 29.7% fentanyl analogs) were most common. Although rare, transdermal administration was found among deaths involving fentanyl (1.2%), likely indicating pharmaceutical fentanyl (Table 2). More than one third of deaths had no evidence of route of administration."

Julie K. O’Donnell, PhD; John Halpin, MD; Christine L. Mattson, PhD; Bruce A. Goldberger, PhD; R. Matthew Gladden, PhD. Deaths Involving Fentanyl, Fentanyl Analogs, and U-47700 — 10 States, July–December 2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Vol. 66. Centers for Disease Control. October 27, 2017.
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volum...

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