The soaring numbers of deaths from overdoses in the US and UK requires a radical and fast rethink of drugs policy.

29 Jun 2017

Dr Daniel Ciccarone, a San Franciso-based public health researcher and physician told me of a recent encounter which, despite 17 years in the field, left him stunned. “I talked to some who uses [heroin] in West Virginia. Nice guy. Manages to keep his habit and keep his job. He’s 10 years out of high school. He’s 29. He went to his high school reunion. I kid you not – half of his high school class is gone. Died. It was mostly [opioid] pills and heroin.”

Ciccarone is on the frontline of efforts to understand and combat the US’s rapidly escalating opioid crisis and he makes no bones about the scale and impact of what he says is an unprecedented public health emergency. “We are moving beyond an epidemic. I would call it a crisis,” he says.

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According to official statistics opioids, including heroin and prescription versions of the drug, killed more than 33,000 people in the US in 2015 – a record surge that is expected to see yet more increases

A New York Times analysis earlier this month estimated that overdose deaths are rising faster than ever. And, as the Guardian has reported, more US citizens die from overdoses than from gun fatalities or car crashes. It is now becoming the leading cause of death for the under-50s.

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