A Chicago Tribune editorial reprinted in my local newspaper as "How to halt deadly toll of opioids" (Nov. 13) says that in 2016, "64,000 people died of drug overdoses," generally opioids. In 2014, there were 207,400 drug-related human deaths, so it's safe to assume there were more than that in 2016; 64,000 is for the US.
It is a number that needs to be put in context and analyzed.
In 2014, there were 2,624,418 total deaths of Americans, nearly 46% of them from heart disease and cancer. The 64,000 figure would put the US death rate from drug overdoses between those in 2014 for diabetes (76,488) and influenza plus pneumonia (55,227).
What makes the 64,000 newsworthy — aside from money, politics, and the good old American obsession with drugs — is that such deaths are largely preventable.
The Trib editorial suggests some ways of prevention, but we need more detailed numbers and analysis.
To clarify a related discussion, I've suggested that the most direct way to decrease gun deaths in the USA would be to provide old men like me ways of killing ourselves more elegant than blowing out our brains. How many of those drug deaths are relatively nonmessy suicides? We might have less an opioid crisis than one of despair; and the responsible social answer to despair is psychological intervention and helping people achieve lives worth living.
Are many of the deaths from accidental overdose? We keep down the rate of overdose deaths for legal drugs by regulation of purity and labeling. A direct way to reduce deaths by accidental overdose would be similar supply of FDA-approved illegal drugs, dispensed by responsible people. If we refuse to supply drugs of certified purity and dosage, then we need to make that decision consciously, and tone down laments about the horrors of overdose as such: we clearly have other priorities.