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Drug Awareness and Safety

Drug Awareness and Safety

Facts

Total U.S. Drug Deaths* - More than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids—a 2-fold increase in a decade. Source: CDC

Chart of National Overdose Deaths Involving All Drugs. See Excel link for accessible data.

National Overdose Deaths—Number of Deaths Involving Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers (excluding non-methadone synthetics). The figure below is a bar chart showing the total number of U.S. overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers (excluding non-methadone synthetics) from 2002 to 2016. Non-methadone synthetics is a category dominated by illicit fentanyl, and has been excluded to more accurately reflect deaths from prescription opioids. The chart below is overlayed by a line graph showing the number of deaths of females and males. From 2002 to 2017 there was a 22-fold increase in the total number of deaths.

 

Chart of National Overdose Deaths Involving Opioid Pain Relievers. See Excel link for accessible data.

National Overdose Deaths—Number of Deaths Involving Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers (excluding non-methadone synthetics). The figure above is a bar chart showing the total number of U.S. overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers (excluding non-methadone synthetics) from 2002 to 2016. Non-methadone synthetics is a category dominated by illicit fentanyl, and has been excluded to more accurately reflect deaths from prescription opioids. The chart is overlayed by a line graph showing the number of deaths of females and males. From 2002 to 2011 there was a 1.9-fold increase in the total number of deaths, but it has remained relatively stable since then.

Health Risks

Drug use can have a wide range of short- and long-term, direct and indirect effects. These effects often depend on the specific drug or drugs used, how they are taken, how much is taken, the person's health, and other factors. Short-term effects can range from changes in appetite, wakefulness, heart rate, blood pressure, and/or mood to heart attack, stroke, psychosis, overdose, and even death. These health effects may occur after just one use.

Longer-term effects can include heart or lung disease, cancer, mental illness, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and others. Long-term drug use can also lead to addiction. Drug addiction is a brain disorder. Not everyone who uses drugs will become addicted, but for some, drug use can change how certain brain circuits work. These brain changes interfere with how people experience normal pleasures in life such as food and sex, their ability to control their stress level, their decision-making, their ability to learn and remember, etc. These changes make it much more difficult for someone to stop taking the drug even when it’s having negative effects on their life and they want to quit.

Drug use can also have indirect effects on both the people who are taking drugs and on those around them. This can include affecting a person’s nutrition; sleep; decision-making and impulsivity; and risk for trauma, violence, injury, and communicable diseases. Drug use can also affect babies born to women who use drugs while pregnant. Broader negative outcomes may be seen in education level, employment, housing, relationships, and criminal justice involvement.

Awareness

Addiction Science

Many people don't understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to. Fortunately, researchers know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatments that can help people recover from drug addiction and lead productive lives.

Drugs and the Brain

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the human brain is the most complex organ in the body—you need it to drive a car, to enjoy a meal, to breathe, to create an artistic masterpiece, and to enjoy everyday activities. In brief, the brain regulates your body’s basic functions; enables you to interpret and respond to everything you experience; and shapes your thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Drugs, however, can alter important brain areas that are necessary for life-sustaining functions and can drive the compulsive drug abuse that marks addiction. As a result, NIDA supports a large body of neuroscience research that can provide clues how better to manage and prevent substance use disorders.

Charts from drugabuse.gov Overdose Death Rates
Supporting Data (Excel)

Contact: 

Carol Jarabek • (865) 354-3000 ext. 4715 • Click name for email address

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