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Opioid Awareness

On the Frontlines of America’s Opioid Epidemic

Photo: Courtesy of Tyson Dudley

America’s growing opioid epidemic makes no racial, gender, class or educational distinctions. As it touches more and more people, any one of us might be called to the frontlines to do our part to protect our loved ones.

How we got here

In step with opioid use, opioid overdose deaths continue to rise; rural communities are among the hardest hit. And we are seeing increases in babies born dependent on opioids — up to 1 in 30 births in some states.     

Over the past 20 years, the opioid epidemic has spread rapidly across America, taking lives, shattering families, and leaving communities with limited resources to respond. Between 2000 and 2015, more than 300,000 Americans lost their lives to opioids, both prescription and illicit. During that same period, we have learned more about the addictive properties of prescription opioids and how physicians and patients together can find ways to manage pain using safer and more effective treatments.


Benjamin Franklin wisely stated, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In America, 3 out of 4 heroin users reported previous misuse of prescription opioids. Reducing exposure to prescription opioids, for situations where the risks of opioids outweigh the benefits, is a crucial part of prevention.

CDC, other federal agencies, public health, and law enforcement are all working together with states to set up systems to better and more quickly report opioid overdoses. Better identifying communities at risk allows us to better provide them with the tools they need. For example, when communities experiencing rapid increases of opioid overdoses are identified, we can focus prevention efforts on awareness about the general risks of opioid use, as well as best practices specific to prescription opioids.

Fighting back

Also, anyone struggling with opioid addiction to prescription opioids, illicit fentanyl or heroin can benefit from access to services such as medication-assisted treatment, which combines the use of medications with counseling and behavioral therapies. Lastly, naloxone effectively reverses opioid overdoses when administered in time and expanding its use can prevent overdose deaths in these communities.

Any given day, any one of us might find ourselves on the frontlines of America’s opioid epidemic. The first step to our nation’s revitalization is to arm ourselves with knowledge about the issue. Whether you are a physician, a patient, a friend or family member, or a concerned community member, get online and become familiar with the resources there to help you learn more about preventing and responding to this crisis.

Deb Houry, M.D., MPH, Director, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, [email protected]

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