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The big picture: America's drug problem

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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

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