The US is in a devastating drug crisis caused by opioid-related deaths. New research from the University of Southern California, however, shows how historically the situation is really terrible. The drug overdose death rate in America has turned out to be over in any similarly rich country – with an annual death rate nearly 30 times higher than in countries like Japan and Italy.
USC sociologist Jessica Ho investigated the developmental trends in overdose over age 18. In the 1830s, she found that the US mortality rate was in the middle, while the rate in countries such as Finland and Sweden was low was above the rest. However, in 2000 – four years after the market entry of the powerful painkiller OxyContin – it was already rising steadily. By 2003, the death rate for men in the US was the highest among all countries; In 2005 this was also the case for women. The US has since given up neither of the top two places.
Their findings were released on Thursday in Population and Development Review.
"The United States is experiencing an overdose epidemic of unprecedented proportions, not only because of its own history, but also compared to the experiences of other high-income countries," she wrote. "The US has had the highest mortality rate for drug overdoses in its peer countries for over a decade."
In 2013 (the last year in which Ho had data for each country), the US mortality rate for drug overdoses was 16, 97 deaths per 100,000 people, adjusted for age. In contrast, the rate in Japan was 0.60 deaths per 100,000 men, more than 28 times difference. On average, US overdose mortality in 2013 was 3.5 times higher than in other countries. And even compared to Finland and Sweden, the mortality rate was still 60 percent higher.
Ho's research is not the first to show how much the crisis is clearly an American problem. Last year's study found that, compared to European countries, the number of organs available for transplantation of deceased US donors has increased dramatically in recent years, almost exclusively due to overdose deaths. However, Ho says her study is the first to do such a comprehensive comparison of the US and similar countries.
Their findings also seem to confirm the suspicion that the crisis was directly responsible for a growing gap between the US and other nations. The United States has lagged behind in terms of life expectancy for some time, but the sheer number of deaths from overdose, which is common among young people or middle-aged, has only dragged us down. She estimated that the difference in life expectancy for men and women in 2013 would have been on average 9 percent and 34 percent lower, respectively, without these deaths being added.
"While overdose alone is not responsible for the poor, and the deterioration in US performance compared to other high-income countries contributes significantly to recent increases in US life expectancy. "
Surprisingly, Ho's results could underestimate how much worse the US really is compared to everyone else, since the last year in the 2013 study was 2014. In 2014, 47,000 people died of an overdose in the US By 2017, that number had increased however, to over 70,000, with over 40,000 deaths related to opioids (many) deaths may involve more than one drug.) This increase is mainly due to the availability of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which are more potent and sometimes even considered other safe medications
On the other hand, non-US countries largely avoided neighboring Canada experienced its own smaller version of the crisis and severely curtailed the use of prescription opioid painkillers their territory on poorer countries in Latin America a, Africa and Asia, where access to painkillers was historically low. The industry – including Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin – has been accused of carrying out the same fraudulent campaigns that they have used in the US to promote opioid use in these countries.
It is a strategy that is perceived by many citizens Health experts have likened to tobacco companies that are starting a business in low-income countries after losing the fight to smoke in the US and elsewhere.
"If OxyContin follows the same path, this will be a big problem as regulatory structures, health systems and surveillance systems are far less developed in low-income countries and they become more vulnerable to aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies. There is a high probability that these countries are experiencing severe epidemics of overdose, which are only a very small warning, "she warned.