Amer­ica’s Over­dose Epi­demic In Perspective


Last month, the New York Times es­ti­mated that U.S. drug over­dose deaths in 2016 would most likely ex­ceed 59,000, the largest an­nual jump in the coun­try’s history. The scale of the heroin and opi­ate epi­demic has con­tin­ued to es­ca­late, fu­eled by il­lic­itly man­u­fac­tured fen­tanyl and the cheap sup­ply of heroin from Mex­ico and Colom­bia. Drug over­doses are killing more Amer­i­cans than car crashes and they have now be­come the lead­ing cause of death for peo­ple un­der 50.

Given the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem, how do U.S. drug deaths com­pare with other de­vel­oped coun­tries? Ac­cord­ing to the Euro­pean Drug Re­port, Es­to­nia has Europe’s high­est level of drug-in­duced deaths in pro­por­tion to its pop­u­la­tion, due to a boom in over­doses brought on pri­mar­ily by fen­tanyl man­u­fac­tured across the bor­der in Rus­sia. In 2012, the small Baltic coun­try had 191 deaths per mil­lion peo­ple and by 2014 that had fallen to 102. Swe­den now fol­lows close be­hind Es­to­nia with 101 deaths per mil­lion peo­ple while the United King­dom has 60.

Por­tu­gal de­crim­i­nal­ized drugs in July 2001 and it has seen its rate of di­ag­nosed HIV cases and drug-in­duced deaths de­cline dra­mat­i­cally. In 2014, Por­tu­gal had only 6 deaths per mil­lion of the pop­u­la­tion due to drug use. The U.S. needs to act to re­duce the scale of the cur­rent cri­sis and Por­tu­gal’s ex­am­ple might be one worth fol­low­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, the U.S. now has an alarm­ing 185 drug in­duced deaths per mil­lion peo­ple, 31 times higher than Por­tu­gal.

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