Dr. Robert R. Redfield
The opioid overdose epidemic is the public health crisis of our time — and it’s having a tragic impact on families and communties across our country. In 2016, approximately 115 Americans died every day from overdoses involving prescription opioids, illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly-manufactured fentanyl and its analogues. While we don’t have final data for 2017 yet, early data show that the number could be as high as 134 overdose deaths per day. Families affected by this tragic crisis experience unimaginable loss and pain.
The health impacts of opioid misuse go beyond overdose and addiction. The epidemic also brings an increase in hepatitis and HIV infections, and newborns suffering from drug withdrawal. We didn’t get into this crisis overnight — and we won’t get out of it overnight — but stopping the epidemic is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) priority.
The CDC provides research, education and direct assistance to those on the front lines. We fund states to collect data through various systems, from medical examiners and coroners to emergency departments and prescription drug monitoring programs. This information helps the public health community better understand the causes of the epidemic, who is most at risk and how best to prevent both misuse and overdoses. We are also working to improve the quality and timeliness of data needed to quickly respond to emerging issues and target prevention in the hardest-hit communities.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the current administration are serious about this public health emergency, and congressional leaders have provided much-needed additional resources. Recent funding for the CDC will strengthen opioid emergency response work and support state, local, tribal and territorial public health agencies.
The CDC is also dedicated to educating the American public. Last year, we launched the Rx Awarenesscampaign, detailing the dangers and risks of prescription opioids in order to empower people to make safe choices. We support health care providers and health systems with guidance, data and tools to safely manage patient needs and reduce prescribing risks.
This fast-moving opioid overdose epidemic can affect your family no matter your age, sex, race or where you live. Responding to a crisis of this magnitude means we must all work together. That’s why the CDC is working closely with health systems and health departments, law enforcement, first responders and community-based prevention and treatment organizations. Opioid dependency is a complex condition with biological, social, psychological and environmental drivers, and the medical piece of the solution has too long been neglected. There is hope and help for long-term recovery available for everyone who is struggling right now. To win, we must support the families of those fighting addiction, and recognize that stigma is the enemy of public health.
It’s going to be a tough fight — but through the power of science, the power of medicine, the power of public health and faith in the future, we can end this epidemic and save lives.
Dr. Robert R. Redfield, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, [email protected]