Drug overdoses killed a record 72,000 Americans last year, driven by a surge in synthetic opioids.
The big picture: "The dominant factor is the changing drug supply," epidemiologist Brandon Marshall told the N.Y. Times' Margot Sanger-Katz. The synthetic opioid fentanyl is increasingly found mixed with other drugs, and its potency is a factor in the uptick in overdoses.
Between the lines:
- States are turning to medical marijuana as an opioid substitute, including efforts in New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
- Police are shifting their focus to help addicts, including carrying overdose reversers in cruisers and allowing users to turn in their drugs without facing arrest.
- National efforts to curb the crisis will take time: “Because of the forces of stigma, the population is reluctant to seek care. I wouldn’t expect a rapid downturn; I would expect a slow, smooth downturn," professor Dan Ciccarone told the Times.
The bottom line: Ending this epidemic is a bipartisan issue, and the supply of prescription opioids is falling nationwide. But our fellow Americans are dying, and we can't look away.
Go deeper: The congressional districts with the most opioids per person