Since 1999, over 564,000 people have fatally overdosed on opioids. In 2022, opioid deaths continued to skyrocket, largely due to fentanyl.
However, the year also brought significant strides toward ending the opioid crisis, including opioid lawsuit settlements and major reforms in addiction treatment.
The Continued Rise Of Fentanyl
In 2022, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized enough fentanyl to kill every U.S. citizen. Fentanyl is a synthetic (human-made) opioid that’s up to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Just two milligrams (about the size of two grains of sand) can be lethal.
Although fentanyl is extremely potent, it’s cheap to produce. That’s why drug traffickers often add it to other substances, including powder drugs such as heroin and pills such as Xanax.
Most of the fentanyl in the U.S. comes from Mexican drug cartels, typically at legal points of entry along the Mexico-U.S. border.
Generally, you can’t tell when a drug has been laced with fentanyl. That means anyone who uses street drugs could die of a fentanyl overdose.
In fact, every day, more than 150 people die of overdoses involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that these drugs have contributed to a drop in U.S. life expectancy. At 76.1 years, it’s the lowest life expectancy since 1996.
Opioid Lawsuit Settlements
According to the CDC, the rise in fentanyl overdoses represents the third wave of the opioid crisis.
The second wave involved a surge in heroin overdose deaths, while the first wave was characterized by prescription opioid overdose deaths. Drug policy experts have linked these first-wave deaths to deceptive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.
For example, the company Purdue Pharma has twice pleaded guilty to federal crimes involving their marketing of OxyContin, one of the most widely abused prescription opioids.
In the 1990s, the company aggressively promoted the drug while minimizing its risks of addiction and deadly overdose.
In March 2022, the family that owns Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers, reached a $6 billion dollar settlement with state attorneys general.
The settlement is still under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan, with a ruling expected in 2023. If the settlement is finalized, the money will be used to fund drug rehab programs across the country.
Other drug companies and distributors that have faced similar lawsuits include AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, CVS, Johnson & Johnson, and Walmart.
In 2022, these corporations agreed to pay over $50 billion dollars in settlements. This money will be distributed over the next two decades to fund treatment programs and other recovery services, particularly in poorer areas that need these interventions the most.
Opioid Addiction Treatment Reform
In addition to the settlements, 2022 saw another important step toward ending the opioid crisis: treatment reform. Largely in response to the fentanyl crisis, the U.S. government announced some strategies to reduce rates of opioid addiction and overdose:
Increased Access To Medication-Assisted Treatment
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an essential part of many opioid addiction treatment plans. In MAT, doctors prescribe medications to ease opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), MAT helps people stay engaged in treatment and avoid relapse.
One of the most commonly prescribed medications for opioid addiction is buprenorphine.
The Biden administration recently improved access to buprenorphine by eliminating the X-waiver. The X-waiver was a type of certification that physicians needed to obtain before they could prescribe buprenorphine. Now that it’s gone, more patients will be able to access this life-saving medication.
Another medication that can help treat opioid addiction is methadone. Methadone is more regulated than buprenorphine. Many people who use it must visit a government-approved clinic each time they need a dose.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government started allowing more people to receive take-home doses of methadone. In late 2022, the Biden administration announced that it aims to make this change permanent.
Increased Access To Naloxone
Naloxone (brand name Narcan) is a medication that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. On a federal level, it’s only available by prescription (though many states have found workarounds to offer it over the counter).
In 2022, federal officials helped a drug manufacturer called Emergent BioSolutions seek FDA approval for an over-the-counter naloxone nasal spray.
The FDA expects to make a decision on this product by March 2023. If it’s approved, U.S. citizens will have a much easier time preventing overdose deaths in their communities.
If you or someone you love struggles with substance abuse, please reach out to Northeast Addictions Treatment Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer personalized, evidence-based treatments to help you or your loved one stay sober.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Fentanyl Facts
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Life Expectancy in the U.S. Dropped for the Second Year in a Row in 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic
Drug Enforcement Administration — Drug Enforcement Administration Announces the Seizure of Over 379 million Deadly Doses of Fentanyl in 2022
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Medications for Substance Use Disorders