The Numbers Behind America’s Opioid Epidemic
Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50, who are now more likely to die from a drug overdose than from car accidents or firearms. The United States has the dubious distinction of having the highest percentage of drug-related deaths in the world.
While opioid abuse is a nationwide problem, there are specific areas that are being hit harder by this epidemic. Using the location data above, from NORC at the University of Chicago, we can see clusters of counties that have an extremely high rate of overdose deaths. Between 2012 and 2016, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio saw a combined 18,000 deaths related to opioid abuse.
A sharp increase in prescribed opioid-based painkillers and the rise of illegal fentanyl – which is up to 50 times stronger than heroin – has unleashed the worst public health crisis in American history.
It’s a problem that can be tough to understand, but by delving into the data, some key observations emerge.
Doctors Prescribed a lot of Pain Killers
Beginning in the 1980s, prescription opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone were heavily marketed as a treatment for pain, and at the time, the risk of addiction to these substances was downplayed. Opioid prescriptions nearly tripled between 1991 and 2011.
Sales of these powerful painkillers are beginning to drop, in part because the risk of addiction has now been widely publicized. Another decelerating factor is the crackdown on clinics and pharmacies that were over-dispensing painkillers, in some cases directly feeding the elicit drug market.
In 2015, nearly 100 million Americans were prescribed painkillers by their doctor. A recent survey showed one-third of people who abused prescription painkillers in the past year got pills directly from a physician.
This abundance of pills impacts the community at large when excess pills are sold, stolen, or simply given to others. In fact, receiving painkillers from a friend or family member was the most common gateway to abusing opioids.
Fentanyl is Killing a lot of People
If doctors have been prescribing opioids for decades, what is causing this recent spike in overdoses? The answer, for the most part, is fentanyl.
This synthetic opioid presents a problem because it’s extremely potent – it only takes about 2 milligrams to overdose on the drug. Since much of the fentanyl on the market is sourced illegally, doses can and do exceed this amount on a regular basis.
As a result, overdose deaths related to opioids have skyrocketed in recent years:
Overdoses are the tip of the Iceberg
The thousands of overdose deaths around the country are the most extreme symptom of the opioid epidemic, but the problem runs much deeper.
In 2017, there were over 11 million “opioid misusers” in the United States. To put that number in perspective, that’s equivalent to the entire population of Ohio. In fact, the problem is so widespread, that it’s suspected to be influencing workforce participation rates.
The health care burden of the crisis is also staggering. The cost of opioid abuse ranges from $10,000 to $20,000 in annual medical costs per patient.
The hard truth is that, unless bold action is taken, the opioid epidemic is projected to claim nearly 500,000 lives over the next decade.
Visualizing the Healthtech Revolution
From artificial intelligence to the Internet of Things, advances in healthtech are pushing the boundaries of the modern healthcare industry.
Imagine being a patient in the early 19th century, when all ailments were considered “humors” to be ejected from the body. To restore balance, various techniques such as diets, natural herbs, or bloodletting with leeches were used – the only “technology” available at the time.
Even when the basic structure of modern medicine came into place, the average life expectancy was just 34 years old in 1913. A patient from that era would surely be amazed by the leaps and bounds that healthcare has undergone since then, thanks to the influence of technology.
The Healthtech Revolution
Today’s infographic dives into some of the technological advances that are pushing the boundaries of modern healthcare, and what this could mean for the sector.
What is Healthtech?
Healthcare technology, or healthtech, is the use of technology to better treat patients. Many such inventions have been credited for saving countless human lives since the 1800s.
Medicines, devices, procedures, and even organizational systems contribute to expanding life expectancy and improvements in quality of life.
From Fiction to Reality
Breakthroughs such as robotic arms, 3D bio-printed organs, and virtual reality for pain relief are being developed in the medical sector, drawing influences from the big screen.
Technologies that were once the staple of science fiction movies are rapidly becoming realities.
— Jeroen Tas, Chief Innovation Officer, Philips
But there’s a less tactile application of technology from science fiction that will arguably have an even bigger impact on healthcare: artificial intelligence (AI).
By recognizing patterns in behavior and creating their own logic, machine learning algorithms are set to transform various aspects of healthcare ranging from the automation of mundane tasks to the creation of entirely new drugs.
Healthcare at our Fingertips
Healthcare is also getting more mobile and connected, putting the Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile health (mHealth) at center stage as sources of potential disruption.
These technologies can help in everything from offering patients a convenient way to book appointments and pay bills online, to allowing doctors to use electronic health records to access and share information.
Wearable devices and smartphone apps are spiking in adoption as they unlock the option to monitor and manage individual health anytime, anywhere. This is creating an explosion in personal health data, which consumers are willing to share with their doctor if it will benefit them or others.
The Coming Healthtech Boom
Artificial intelligence, IoT, and mHealth are contributing to rapidly expanding healthtech sector, and each are expected to experience rapid growth by 2025:
|Healthcare segment||Current*||Projected (2025E)||CAGR|
|Artificial Intelligence||$2.1 billion||$36.1 billion||50.2%|
|Global IoT||$120.2 billion||$543.3 billion||20.2%|
|Global mHealth||$4.16 billion||$111.8 billion||44.2%|
While healthtech won’t replace your doctor anytime soon, but it will certainly change your experience with healthcare – both on the front-end and behind the scenes.
5 Ways Technology is Transforming the Healthcare Industry
How are emerging technologies like nanomedicine or AI shaping the future of the healthcare industry? See five ways, in this infographic.
5 Ways Tech is Transforming the Healthcare Industry
Whether it’s information-sharing between patients and doctors or aiding in a high-risk surgery, it’s clear that dynamic applications of technology are well underway in disrupting the healthcare industry.
TECH AT OUR FINGERTIPS
Today’s infographic from the Online Medical Care highlights healthcare areas where tech is breaking barriers. Here are five ways that technology is impacting the sector, ranging from AI to nanomedicine:
Artificial intelligence will have a dramatic impact on many industries, and healthcare is no exception.
A large share of healthcare executives are already applying artificial intelligence in their operations, with data showing plans to increase budgets last year.
|Healthcare uses of AI||Adoption (2017)||Adoption (2018E)|
|Clinical decision support||46%||59%|
|Medical costs / health plan||21%||38%|
|Patient safety and quality||25%||33%|
|Supply chain management||13%||21%|
As the technology becomes more developed and widespread, it’s expected that AI could help diagnose strokes, eye disease, heart disease, skin cancer, and other conditions.
Also known as telehealth or telemedicine, virtual healthcare allows patients and doctors to touch base remotely using technology such as video conferencing or mobile apps. Many patients are also becoming comfortable using wearable technology to monitor any changes in their health – and sharing that data with their physicians.
Convenience, ease of use, and travel times to their closest doctor are main reasons why patients choose virtual care. On the flip side, many are concerned about the quality of care, or fear a loss of a personal connection with a doctor.
If all patients chose virtual healthcare over face-to-face visits, it could save the U.S. health system $7 billion annually – while the time savings would “free up” the equivalent of 37,000 doctors.
Nanomedicine is rapidly evolving field which controls individual atoms and molecules at the extremely minute “nanoscale” of 1 to 100 nanometers. To put that into perspective, a single newspaper sheet is about 100,000 nm thick.
Nanomedicine is mainly used to effectively diagnose, treat, and prevent various diseases. Compared to conventional medicines, it’s much better at precise targeting and delivery systems, paving the way towards combating complex conditions such as cancer.
The global nanomedicine market could be worth over $350 billion by 2025.
Although it’s normally been associated with entertainment, virtual reality is making waves in healthcare as well. The multi-sensory, immersive experience that VR provides can benefit both physicians and patients:
- Healthcare worker training
VR can be used to train surgeons in a realistic and low-risk simulated environment.
- Physical and mental health
VR offers therapeutic potential and rehabilitation for acute pain and anxiety disorders.
VR is thus considered a cost-effective and efficient tool for both teaching and treatment, and the VR healthcare services market is expected to grow from $8.9 million in 2017 to an expected $285 million in 2022.
3D printing has come a long way since its debut, especially in its uses in the healthcare industry. The technology offers faster prototypes, creating everything from personalized prosthetics to “poly-pills” at a fraction of the cost.
The customizable aspect of 3D printing is revolutionizing organ transplants and tissue repair, and it’s even able to produce realistic skin for burn victims.
Last but certainly not least, robotic surgery is sweeping through hospitals. It allows doctors to perform delicate and complex procedures that might be otherwise impossible.
Typically, surgeons control a device with a camera and mechanical arms, giving them a high-def view of the surgical site. According to the Mayo Clinic, this method generally:
- Enhances precision, flexibility, and control
- Comes with fewer complications such as infections
- Results in less obvious scars as it is minimally invasive
While technological adoption into the medical field doesn’t come without challenges, the value is clear – and we’ve barely scratched the surface of tech-driven possibilities in the healthcare industry.
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