The opioid and heroin epidemic has ravaged swaths of the United States, with opioids playing a role in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 30 states expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, making the healthcare law the most comprehensive financial government response to the crisis, Reuters found in a study of state programs nationwide.


Overdose deaths on the rise

The number of drug overdose deaths has spiked in recent years. In 2015, the number of overdose deaths involving prescription and illicit opioids has risen more than 2.5 times since 1999, according to the CDC, and the number of drug overdose deaths involving illicit opioids in 2015 was over three times the number in 2010.

The U.S. has seen drug overdose deaths hitting particular regions harder than others. Overall, 19 states saw statistically significant increases in deaths from 2014 to 2015, largely in the Northeast and South.

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Opioid classification

Opiates are derived directly from the poppy plant and include narcotics such as morphine and codeine. Opioids, which are at least partly synthetic, often refer to painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, but also include heroin.

The drugs interact with nerve cells in the brain to relieve pain and also produce a pleasurable effect. Long-term use of the drugs can change the way a brain’s nerve cells work, thus causing withdrawal when drug usage stops. Many communities are grappling with a rise in the use of more potent opioids, including derivatives of fentanyl that can be up to 100 times more potent than prescription painkillers.