The deadly opioid epidemic in your neighborhood: What you need to know

Drug overdoses killed 60,000 Americans last year and the death toll is rising so fast that opioid addiction is now considered an epidemic. More Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016 than were killed in the Vietnam war over two decades. The scourge took nearly twice as many lives as traffic accidents.

Dr. William Morrone, author of a just-published book about the crisis, American Narcan, says the rapid rise in addictions and deaths is rooted in a trend that started around 1999. “What happened was a casual affair between doctors and patients about prescribing opioids that became out of control.”

Doctors have been giving patients 30-day supplies of opioids, painkillers chemically derived from opium, even though they should not take them addictive drugs for that long, Dr. Morrone said.

“You do not need 30 days. Maybe you need four, maybe five, but when you stick the human body on painkillers derived on opium for 30 days, it’s dependent at the end of the month.”

Doctors have been reluctant to cut their patients off from the painkillers, he said.

“What people got from their doctors kind of locked their bodies into seeing it every day, feeling it every day, needing it every day, and the doctors were afraid to say ‘no.’”

More restrictive laws in recent years, however, has made it more likely a doctor will deny them.

“But everyone has a friend,” Morrone said. “You skip the doctor, you skip the pharmacy and you buy it off the streets.” This has created a huge demand for “fake pills” provided by drug cartels, he said.

Robin Gelburd is president of Fair Health, a nonprofit that provides cost information to the health industry and consumers. The group just published a study of what they found by analyzing their huge database of insurance claims in the United States. It found that how you are treated for opioid addiction depends on where you live.

People diagnosed with opioid dependency or abuse may get different medical services depending on where they live, a white paper to be released in the upcoming week by a national databank indicates.

Medical responses to opioid-related diagnoses appear to differ among the five states examined by Fair Health, a nonprofit that provides cost information to the health industry and consumers. To draw that conclusion, researchers analyzed the health insurance billing codes associated with those diagnoses.

Nancy Grace talks with these two experts in this Crime Stories podcast.