The Complete Timeline of the Opioid Epidemic

April 3, 2021

3 min read

According to data from the CDC, there are signs of progress in the fight against opioid addiction. From 2017 to 2018:

  • Opioid-related death rates decreased by 2 percent
  • Prescription opioid-related death rates dropped 13.5 percent
  • Heroin-related death rates decreased 4 percent

Unfortunately, synthetic opioid-related death rates jumped 10 percent, and that figure does not include methadone.

Much work needs to be done to get the opioid epidemic under control. Understanding the timeline for the opioid crisis – how and when it started, why the problem got worse, and how we got to where we are today – is critical to continuing the reduction of opioid overdose deaths in our country. 

Looking at historical data, the opioid crisis timeline can be divided into three distinct waves.

Wave 1: An Uptick in Opioid Prescriptions

The first wave in the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s when opioids were approved for more use cases and doctors began prescribing opioid pain relievers at an alarming rate. Not surprisingly, an increase in prescriptions was followed by an increase in deaths.

From 1991 to 1999, the rate of overdose deaths in the US tripled with prescription drug-related deaths accounting for most of the increase. Opioid pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone were a major cause of the increase in overdose deaths. Then from 1999 to 2008, opioid-related deaths surpassed the number of deaths involving heroin and cocaine combined. Overdoes death rates, sales, and substance abuse treatment admissions increased significantly. 

Opioid pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone were a major cause of the increase in overdose deaths from 1991 to 1999.

Wave 2: A Surge in Heroin Overdose Deaths

The opioid crisis continued to deepen as heroin use increased sharply for men and women in all age groups, all areas of the country, and every ethnicity except American Indians/Alaska Natives. People who started using heroin after 2000 said heroin became more accessible and cheaper and delivered a more potent high than prescription opioids.

The number of heroin-related overdoses deaths doubled in 28 states analyzed by the CDC from 2010 to 2012. During the same period, the death rate from overdoses involving prescription opioids dropped 6.6 percent.

The biggest problem with heroin, an illicit opioid, is that nearly all users use at least one other drug simultaneously, whether it’s cocaine or prescription opioids. This increases the risk of serious health complications and death.

Wave 3: A Spike in Deaths Involving Illegal Fentanyl

Beginning in 2013, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioid pain relievers, especially illicitly manufactured fentanyl, increased significantly. In fact, about half of the increase in heroin-related deaths after 2013 can be attributed to the use of both heroin and fentanyl. By 2014, there were 4,585 confiscations of illegal fentanyl in the U.S.

Fentanyl, which has been approved to treat severe pain, is said to be 50-100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl is typically prescribed in patch or lozenge form. Most deaths involving fentanyl occur because the substance is illegally made and mixed with heroin by drug traffickers and users.

By the second half of 2016, fentanyl was detected in 56.3 percent of opioid overdose deaths in 10 states that participated in CDC research. Fentanyl was determined to be the cause of death in 97.1 percent of those deaths.

Is COVID-19 Causing a Fourth Wave?

According to the American Medical Association, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the opioid crisis more complicated and more deadly. 

In fact, more than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths as public health agencies grow more concerned about substance use disorders and mental health disorders among those in isolation. Despite the expansion of telehealth, many people struggling with addiction and mental health issues aren’t getting the treatment they need.

DetoxLA Can Help You End Your Opioid Addiction

DetoxLA’s co-ed medical detox program can be your first step toward ending your addiction to opioids, whether prescription pain relievers, illegal fentanyl, or heroin. We offer personalized treatment plans at our Los Angeles detox center that can put you on the path to recovery.

To learn more about our medically supervised, co-ed detox program, contact DetoxLA today.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Dane is the Director of Brand Strategy for Never Alone Recovery, where he helps brands in the mental health, addiction, and recovery industries connect with their audiences. Dane’s interests include technology, the film industry, travel, marketing, music, and coffee.

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