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Rx Awareness: Impact of an Epidemic

Prescription opioids can be addictive and dangerous. It only takes a little to lose a lot.

Help prevent overdoses by sharing stories of Americans whose lives have been impacted by the opioid epidemic.

Joining Forces to Fight the Opioid Overdose Epidemic Devastating the United States

Across this nation, we have been seeing an alarming trend in increases in drug overdose deaths. Specifically, overdose deaths from prescription and illicit opioids have more than quadrupled in the United States since 1999. The faces of opioid abuse in our communities and the stories of addiction, overdose, and loss fuel our commitment to helping end this devastating public health crisis.

Addressing the Problem

More than 183,000 people have died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids from 1999–2015. And as CDC has been tracking data on all opioid overdoses, we found three distinct waves of the epidemic:

  • Increases in deaths involving prescription opioids since 1999
  • Rapid increases in deaths involving heroin since 2010
  • Significant increases in deaths involving synthetic opioids since 2013— particularly those involving illicitly-manufactured fentanyl (IMF) and fentanyl analogues, which are found in combination with heroin, counterfeit pills, and cocaine.
I was given prescription opioid pain medication that lasted a lot longer than the pain itself.

Mike started to watch his life slip away from addiction to prescription opioids. He says, “I was given a prescription opioid pain medication that lasted longer than the pain itself.”

How can I be addicted? I get these from my doctor.

Brenda never knew about the risks of addiction to prescription opioids. She thought, “How can I be addicted? I get these from my doctor?”

Increasing Rx Awareness

Taking on the foundation of the opioid overdose epidemic means looking at where we can make a difference in the inappropriate prescribing of opioids—preventing people from getting addicted in the first place. Anyone taking prescription opioids can become addicted to them, and taking opioids for longer periods of time or in higher doses increases the risk of addiction, overdose, and death. It is also a risk factor for heroin addiction. Despite the serious risks that come with prescription opioids, prescribers wrote nearly 67 opioid prescriptions for every 100 Americans in 2016.

CDC recently launched the Rx Awareness campaign to increase awareness that prescription opioids can be addictive and dangerous. The campaign tells the real stories of people whose lives have been torn apart by opioid misuse. Through these compelling personal accounts, the campaign helps people understand the risks and dangers of prescription opioids by sharing the message, “It only takes a little to lose a lot.”

Everyone Can Help Stop Prescription Opioid Overdose

CDC and other federal agencies recognize this critical threat to public health and have made it a priority to raise awareness. Recently, we honored the first Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, acknowledging how the federal government is coming together to effectively address the epidemic. But, we can all protect Americans from opioid overdose.

As a member of your community, you have a role to play in preventing opioid overdose:

  1. Learn more about opioids so you can help people who are most at risk for opioid use disorder and overdose in your community.
  2. Help those struggling with opioid use disorder find the right care and treatment.
  3. Increase awareness about opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose by sharing Rx Awareness messages through:

If you know someone with a substance abuse issue, refer them to SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

  • Page last reviewed: October 23, 2017
  • Page last updated: October 23, 2017
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