The prescription of opioids for dealing with chronic pain saw a sharp increase starting in the late 1990s, before it was known that such medications were highly addictive. Now, an estimated 90 people die every day in the United States due to an opioid overdose. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as many as 21% to 29% of prescription opioid patients misuse the drug, and about 80% of heroin users were first misusing prescription opioids. The U.S. further spends around $78.5 billion dollars annually on costs related to opioid misuse, including healthcare costs, lost productivity, and addiction treatment.
How do opioids work and who is at risk for an opioid addiction? What are scientists doing to try to combat the opioid crisis?