The Spiraling Opioid Epidemic in America

According to the CDC, the opioid epidemic can be traced back to the 1990s, when opioids started being over-prescribed for pain relief purposes.

1990s – Wave 1
Over-prescription of opioids for pain relief, including natural opioids, semi-synthetic opioids, and methadone. Addiction risks were widely downplayed.

2010 – Wave 2
Heroin-related overdose deaths on the rise.

2013 – Wave 3
Synthetic opioid-related deaths on the rise, particularly fentanyl and tramadol.

Visualization type: Nightingale Rose Chart


The Spiraling Opioid Epidemic in America

Over the last 20 years, the ongoing U.S. opioid crisis has claimed tens of thousands of lives. In fact, opioid overdose deaths accounted for nearly 70% of all drug overdose deaths in 2018.

Although the damage of the opioid epidemic is well documented, what people might not know is that it has escalated in three distinct waves.

We pull the 2020 statistics from the UN World Drug Report 2020 to uncover the scope of the opioid crisis in the U.S., and how national drug-related death rates compare to other countries.

First published: July 17, 2020 (link)

Source files included: .ai, .eps, .pdf

Data source: UNODC World Drug Report 2020, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Injury Relief, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

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