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.