May 2, 2024 - News

The profound ripple effect of the overdose crisis

Data: Athey, et al., 2024, "An Overlooked Emergency: More Than One in Eight U.S. Adults Have Had Their Lives Disrupted by Drug Overdose Deaths"; Chart: Axios Visuals

Amid the crushing rash of opioid overdoses in Austin this week, we were reminded about a troubling study published earlier this year — that more than 4 in 10 Americans personally know someone who has died of an overdose.

Why it matters: With more than 100,000 people dying from overdoses a year, America's drug crisis has undeniably altered millions of lives. But the study in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that the epidemic's reach into American life has, if anything, been underestimated.

The big picture: As the drug epidemic has evolved and become deadlier, it has grown from a public health issue to a divisive political topic — both because of its emotional resonance with voters and because of the controversial nature of potential solutions, like expanded access to methadone treatment.

  • As fatalities and policy fights make headlines, however, there's been far less discussion about those left behind in the aftermath of fatal overdoses.

By the numbers: More than 125 million Americans know at least one person who has fatally overdosed, the RAND study projects.

  • More than 40 million adults have had their lives disrupted by overdose loss, and an estimated 12.5 million people are still feeling a "significant or devastating effect."
  • Exposure to overdose death was more common among women than men, married people than unmarried people, U.S.-born respondents than immigrants and those who live in urban areas rather than rural ones.

Of note: Researchers based findings on a nationally representative survey of 2,072 adults.

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