This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in U.S. history. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. We’re going to talk about how the epidemic reached this point. We’ll also hear about some of the innovative harm reduction approaches to preventing people addicted to opioids from overdosing or getting sick through dirty needles and approaches to making quality addiction treatment more accessible.
My guest German Lopez is a senior reporter for Vox and has been covering drug policy since 2010. One of the cities hard hit by the opioid epidemic is Philadelphia. Later in the show, WHYY reporter Bobby Allyn will tell us about how and why some local officials and public health advocates are trying to make Philadelphia the first city in the U.S. to open a legally sanctioned safe injection site. As you can guess, it’s a controversial move.
German Lopez, welcome to FRESH AIR. Give us an overview of the scope of the opioid epidemic. The CDC recently released a report. What did you learn about the scope of the epidemic from that?
GERMAN LOPEZ: So the CDC report found that there were nearly 64,000 drug overdose deaths last year in the U.S., meaning in 2016. So to put that in context, that’s more than gun deaths. That’s more than car crashes. It’s more than HIV/AIDs during the peak of that epidemic. Another way of looking at it is it’s more deaths in the U.S. from drug overdoses than there were U.S. casualties during the entire Vietnam War. It’s now the biggest drug overdose epidemic in U.S. history. There seems to be a slight increase so far in 2017 as well. So it just – it seems to just keep getting worse.