US opioid crisis

The US Addiction Crisis and the Rotary’s Unique Position to Help Address It

By Heidi Heilman Weston/Wayland Rotary Club; District 7910

RAG-AP US Regional Responsible

The White House Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis called for a national emergency over the opioid epidemic in a report released Monday, July 31st. According to the report, the United States is experiencing a national addiction crisis; the data is staggering. Specifically, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), estimates that 142 Americans die every day from a drug overdose. Currently, drug overdoses now kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined. Between 1999 and 2015, more than 560,000 Americans died due to drug overdoses – a death toll larger than the entire population of Atlanta. In 2015, nearly two- thirds of drug overdoses were linked to opioids like Percocet, OxyContin, heroin, and fentanyl.

Americans consume more opioids than any other country in the world. In fact, in 2015, the amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks. Since 1999, the number of opioid overdoses in America have quadrupled according to the CDC. In that same period, the amount of prescription opioids in America have quadrupled as well. This massive increase in prescribing has occurred despite the fact that there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain Americans have reported in that time period.

The Commission’s report states that as access to prescription opioids tightens, consumers increasingly are turning to dangerous street opioids, heroin, fentanyl alone or combined, and mingled with cocaine or other drugs. In 2016, specific states witnessed an escalating number of overdose deaths due to heroin and/or fentanyl(s), in some states vastly exceeding deaths due to prescription opioids. In 2015, 27 million people reported current use of illegal drugs or abuse of prescription drugs. Despite this self-reporting, only 10 percent of the nearly 21 million citizens with a substance use disorder (SUD) receive any type of specialty treatment according to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health. This is contributing greatly to the increase of deaths from overdose. Over forty percent of people with a substance use disorder also have a mental health problem, but less than half of these people receive treatment for either issue.

The scope of the problem is enormous and complex; it will take a coordinated, comprehensive response to address it. Prevention is essential. Research indicates its economical importance in reducing large population level drug use and misuse and the related human and societal costs. Every dollar invested in substance abuse prevention saves anywhere from $2 – $20 in fallout costs from drug use and addiction (1). Research also reveals, strong programmatic structure and secure funding are insufficient to ensure a successful prevention approach to addressing targeted drug behavior, without external pressure from nongovernmental groups (2).

The Rotary, with its expansive network of thriving, local clubs positioned across the United States, offers an important collaborative role in helping to reverse this growing national crisis. With guidance and direction from leaders in the substance abuse prevention field that work to apply the public health model of the Strategic Prevention Framework, Rotary Districts can partner with state and local-level public health and safety organizations to help rapidly advance solutions to reduce substance abuse and addiction. As a unique, non-governmental resource, Rotary is positioned well to fund research and pilot new innovative educational approaches that are steeped in science and evidence-based strategies. Now is the time for Rotary to seize the opportunity to unite with prevention professionals, stakeholders and communities to implement and evaluate best-practices that work to address and prevent substance abuse and addiction.

(1) Community Prevention Initiative, 2011. Power of Prevention. Center for Applied Research Solutions. Retrieved from on August 4, 2017

(2) Kennedy, A., Sullivan, S., Hendlin, Y., Barnes, R., & Glantz, S. (2012). Strong Tobacco Control Program

(2) Kennedy, A., Sullivan, S., Hendlin, Y., Barnes, R., & Glantz, S. (2012). Strong Tobacco Control Program Requirements and Secure Funding Are Not Enough: Lessons From Florida. American Journal of Public Health, 2012 May, 102(5), 807–817. Retrieved from on August 4, 2017.