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The Odds Are Pretty Good You’ll Die of an Opioid Overdose — So What Now?

In America, you’re more likely to be killed by opioids than a car crash

In October 2017, President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency. But alas, the problem only seems to be getting worse: For the first time in history, Americans are now more likely to die of an opioid overdose than in a car crash, according to a new new report from the National Safety Council.

More specifically, Americans now have a one in 96 chance of dying from an opioid overdose, whereas the odds of dying in a car crash are one in 103. The fact that opioid overdoses managed to surpass such a historically popular life-exiting method is especially striking when you consider that car crashes have not only traditionally been a leading cause of deaths for American adults, but the leading cause of deaths for American teenagers, too.

The complexities of this crisis are just that — complex. However, as I previously reported, the synthetic (and extremely potent) opioid fentanyl is largely responsible for the majority of these overdoses: “Fentanyl has become a driving force behind the opioid epidemic over the past few years. A recent study found that fentanyl is actually killing more Americans than either heroin or prescribed painkillers: Of the 42,000 overdose deaths reported in 2016, approximately 19,000 were related to fentanyl, while 15,469 were related to heroin and 17,087 to prescribed opioids.”

While these statistics are undoubtedly frightening on their own, studies show that opioid-related overdoses have been undercounted by as much as 35 percent, meaning the opioid epidemic is actually far worse than it sounds.

All of which poses the big question: What can be done? Well, a lot, actually. It’s such a common problem now that even institutions as mundane as Starbucks are trying to do their part in addressing it, recently resorting to installing needle disposal boxes in their bathrooms, since employees have repeatedly discovered hypodermic needles in their trash cans and on their floors. (Some of their employees have even been poked by these dirty, dangerous needles while attempting to discard them, an experience which screams “lawsuit” loudly enough for this sudden company policy change to make perfect, cynical sense.)

The National Safety Council, meanwhile, has previously recommended that we improve pain-management training for doctors who would otherwise prescribe opioids, which seems like one of the most obvious answers. They also suggested that we make the overdose-reversing drug Narcan (or naloxone) more widely available, which has been at least somewhat enacted: Every public library and YMCA in America is now equipped with Narcan. Similarly, there has been some talk about implementing drug testing at work; however, as my colleague Tierney Finster reported, that would be a logistical nightmare.

Generally speaking, though, providing drug users with the means to prevent an overdose seems to be the best bet. California, for instance, has already begun providing drug users with fentanyl test strips, which is a cheap, easy first step to making sure their Friday night cocaine hasn’t been cut with anything more lethal. Then, of course, opening more safe-consumption centers — where trained staff can administer naloxone when necessary and offer long-term treatment options — would be ideal.

But until more people realize the scope of this crisis, and until Big Pharma stops spending tens of billions to advertise its extremely dangerous drugs, overdose deaths will continue to climb.

In the meantime, please don’t dope and drive — that’s just asking for it.