As Opioid-Related Deaths Rise, Communities Like Jacksonville Seek Restitution

Mar 27, 2019

Over the last couple of decades, the opioid epidemic has hit the U.S. hard in a series of waves.

Wave one began in 1991 when deaths involving opioids started to rise following a sharp increase in the prescribing of opioids and opioid-combination medications for the treatment of pain. Its popularity grew as doctors and prescribers assured patients that the risk of addiction was low, which turned out to be wrong.

The second wave of the opioid epidemic started around 2010 with a rapid increase in deaths from heroin abuse.

Right around this time efforts were being made to put an end to the opioid epidemic by making the drugs harder to obtain. In response, many addicts turned to the stronger, cheaper and more widely available drug heroin.

According to the National Capital Position Center, the use of heroin increased among men and women, the majority of age brackets and all socioeconomic groups. Deaths due to heroin-related overdoses increased by 286 percent from 2002 to 2013. Approximately 80 percent of heroin users admitted to misusing prescription opioids before turning to heroin.

The U.S. is now in the middle of wave three.

This wave has been due to the increased use of the drug fentanyl.  Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO of LSF Health System, said, “This drug is 50 times more potent than heroin and it is being laced in cocaine, methamphetamines and even marijuana.”

Credit Rick Bowmer/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Last year, the CDC named fentanyl as the deadliest drug in America.

This week Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, reached a $270 million dollar settlement with the state of Oklahoma for the painkiller’s role in the opioid crisis.

In Florida, Jacksonville tops the list for opioid overdose deaths, according to Cauffield. The epidemic has taken a high toll and the city is taking on the pharmaceutical companies with legal action of its own.

Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford said this morning on WJCT's First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross, “I feel like they owe us for the heavy financial burden it has placed on the citizens of Jacksonville.” 

Related: Hear Councilman Gulliford on Wednesday's episode of First Coast Connect

A CDC study shows three major trends in the ongoing opioid crisis:

  • Overdose deaths among men are nearly three times than among women.
  • While whites continue to have the highest overall rates of fentanyl fatalities, death rates among the black and Hispanic communities are rising faster.
  • The rate of 15- to 24-year-olds who died from fentanyl overdoses increased by about 94 percent each year between 2011 and 2016, and about 100 percent each year for 25- to 34-year-olds.

The epidemic is still killing more than 70,000 Americans a year. The CDC says that overdose deaths are higher than deaths from HIV, car crashes or gun violence at their peaks.

Samantha Kindler can be reached at newsteam@wjct.org, 904-358-6317 or on Twitter at @kindlersamantha.