Each year, more than 40,000 Americans die from drug overdoses. That’s on par with the annual death toll from HIV/AIDS at the peak of the US epidemic, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and far more than are killed each year from car accidents or gun violence. More than half of those overdose deaths involved opioids, a class of drugs including heroin, Vicodin, OxyContin, and fentanyl. So dire is the epidemic of opioid addiction that it inspired a rare moment of political bipartisanship earlier this year, when Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to increase accessibility to addiction medications and the overdose reversal drug naloxone. Democrats tried to include $920 million in treatment funding, but Republicans blocked the move, saying they would address the issue during the appropriations process this fall. So what exactly is at stake? Here’s a quick primer on the scope of the epidemic—and what it will take to fix it: What are opioids? Opioids are compounds that bind to the brain’s opioid receptors, blocking pain and slowing breathing. Because the drugs trigger the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, new users typically feel a calm, happy high. When users take opioids regularly, they develop… Read full this story
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