Sign Up

The Rise of the U.S. Opioid Crisis

What factors might have contributed to the sudden increase?

July 8, 2016

What factors might have contributed to the sudden increase?

1. 3.8% of the U.S. population was using opioids, whether heroin and prescription painkillers, in 2014 – the highest share worldwide. Australia is the next-closest, also with more than 3%.

2. Combining users of all opium derivatives – natural and synthesized – would include well over 5% of the U.S. population between the ages of 15 and 64, as of 2013. Worldwide, only Serbia also exceeds 5% on the combined total.

3. Globally, 32.4 million people used opioids in 2014. This represented an opioid use rate of 0.7%.

Global Optoid Crisis: A “Just The Facts” Series

The Rise of the U.S. Opioid Crisis

Iran’s Opioid Struggle

Russia’s Addiction Problem

Afghanistan: Opium’s Global Ground Zero

4. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime deems that global rate stable, in that it has not risen or fallen recently.

5. However, heroin overdoses in the United States quintupled from 2004 to 2013, with most of that increase since 2011.

6. Many economic and healthcare factors played a role. But widespread joblessness and property vacancy after the most recent recession fostered a volatile environment allowing this development.

7. A majority of heroin in the United States comes from Latin American cultivation, but a growing minority is coming from Afghanistan.

8. Afghan heroin may be entering the United States via Canada, across its porous U.S. border, particularly in the northeastern United States.

9. U.S. heroin use has shifted out of U.S. cities into rural areas, as well as into sub-populations with a personal history of painkiller abuses.

10. To try to deter abuse, prescription painkillers are becoming more difficult to obtain in the United States or are being reformulated. The number of prescriptions fell each year from 2013 through 2015.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, UNODC, Journal of the American Medical Association, New York Times


The U.S. has the highest share of opioid users worldwide, well above the global average.

U.S. heroin overdoes quintupled after 2004, and most of that happened from 2011 onward.

Most U.S. heroin comes from Latin America, but a growing minority share comes from Afghanistan.