Authors: Wakeman, S. E.; Green, T. C.; Rich, T.

Published online 2014 Jan 9. doi:  10.1016/j.amjmed.2013.12.018

In recent years, we have seen a rising tide of deaths documented in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that bears a chilling familiarity to the early years of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) epidemic. These deaths are from opioid overdoses, due to the underlying disease of opioid addiction, just as AIDS deaths are due to the underlying HIV infection. Overdose from opioid addiction now kills more Americans than motor vehicle crashes or firearms. As with HIV/AIDS, many of the victims are young, previously healthy, and already stigmatized, with effective care hindered by a public impression that only certain groups of people become opioid addicts. While the death toll of these parallel epidemics is comparable, the efficacy of the response to opioid addiction has yet to match that of HIV/AIDS. As tangible evidence of our failure to effectively disseminate addiction treatment, every 19 minutes another American dies from an unintentional overdose.