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Confronting Opioids

Man with head in his hands surrounded by comforting friends

Confronting the Opioid Epidemic: What Can be Done? CDC continues to fight the opioid overdose epidemic, working to save lives and prevent negative health effects of this epidemic, such as opioid use disorder, hepatitis and HIV infections, and neonatal abstinence syndrome. It will take coordinated efforts by communities, healthcare providers, public health, law enforcement, and other sectors to address this ongoing epidemic.

Opioid overdoses continue to increase across all regions of the United States for both men and women and most age groups. Drug overdoses have dramatically increased over the last two decades, with deaths more than tripling between 1999 and 2016.  In 2016, more than 63,000 people died from drug overdoses—more than 42,000 of these involved prescription or illicit opioids.

The best ways to prevent opioid overdose deaths are to improve opioid prescribing, reduce exposure to both prescription and illicit opioids, prevent misuse, and to treat opioid use disorder. CDC plays an essential role in opioid overdose prevention and takes a public health approach to address key aspects of the epidemic.

Graphic: 5 Focus Areas

CDC’s five-point strategy to preventing opioid overdoses and harms.

Improving Data Quality and Tracking Trends

Timely, high-quality data are critical to help public health officials effectively respond to the opioid overdose epidemic. Data help us understand the extent of the problem, focus resources where they are needed most, and evaluate the success of prevention and response efforts. CDC recognizes the importance of data and is helping states track the epidemic and better focus their activities, as well as funding research to identify effective strategies to help prevent overdoses.

Building State, Local, and Tribal Capacity

States, local communities, and tribes play an important role in preventing opioid overdoses and related harms. They run prescription drug monitoring programs, regulate controlled substances, license healthcare providers, respond to drug overdose outbreaks, and run large public insurance programs such as Medicaid and workers compensation. CDC is funding state efforts to improve data collection and to implement evidence-based prevention strategies.

Supporting Healthcare Providers and Health Systems

Improving the way opioids are prescribed can ensure patients have access to safer, more effective pain treatment while reducing the number of people who misuse, abuse, or overdose from these drugs. Providers and the health systems in which they work are critical when it comes to promoting safer and more effective opioid prescribing. Providers and health systems can use the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain to help address patient-centered clinical practices such as conducting thorough assessments, considering non-opioid treatments, monitoring risks, and safely discontinuing opioids as needed. Supporting healthcare providers and health systems with data, tools, and guidance for evidence-based decision-making related to opioid prescribing is an important component to patient safety.

Empowering People to Make Safe Choices

Helping Americans understand the severity of the epidemic and raising awareness about opioid use disorder and overdose is a key component of prevention. CDC launched the Rx Awareness communication campaign featuring testimonials from people recovering from opioid use disorder and those who have lost loved ones to prescription opioid overdose. The campaign’s goal is educating people about the risks of prescription opioids and the importance of discussing safer and more effective pain management with healthcare providers. It also promotes awareness of risks associated with recreational (non-medical) use of opioids and prevention.

Partnering with Public Safety

The opioid overdose epidemic has worsened with a rise in the use of illicit opioids. This fast-moving epidemic does not distinguish between age, sex, or location, and increases in deaths across states indicate the need for better coordination. Many different responders come together to prevent opioid overdoses and deaths, including health departments, law enforcement, and community-based organizations. Improving communication and collaboration between public health and public safety can help identify changes in illicit drug supply and coordinate a more timely and effective response. CDC recognizes that first responders including police, fire, and paramedics are on the frontlines of the epidemic and works to protect all public safety officials and provides guidance for those responding.

Everyone plays an important role in preventing opioid overdose deaths through education, partnership, and collaboration.

More Information

Learn more about opioids to protect yourself and your loved ones from opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose. Visit these websites for prevention resources and information about the opioid epidemic in the United States:

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a great resource to share with someone who may have a substance abuse issue. You can have them call 1-800-662-HELP (4537) or SAMHSA’s Behavioral Treatment Services Locator.

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