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The Numbers Behind America’s Opioid Epidemic

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Opioid Epidemic overdose map

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.

opioid sales

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.

Source of opioids

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 by opioid drug type

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.

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Healthcare

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.

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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

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.
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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.

Virtual Healthcare

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

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.

Virtual Reality

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

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.

Robot-Assisted Surgery

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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Visualizing the Future of the Pharma Market

With prescription drugs expected to be a $1.2 trillion industry by 2024, which are the most anticipated drugs and therapy areas in the pharma market?

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Visualizing the Future of the Pharma Market

Around the world, people are living longer.

By 2050, there will be two billion people that are 60 years or older globally. Meanwhile, the amount of seniors (65+ years old) in the U.S. will double to 100 million by 2060.

To meet the needs of this aging population, we will continue to need larger quantities and more varieties of prescription drug treatments – an industry that is expected to skyrocket to $1.2 trillion in size by 2024.

Drug Sales, by Segment

Today’s infographic comes to us from Raconteur, and it highlights the most anticipated drug treatments and therapy areas for the pharmaceutical industry.

It starts by breaking down the massive pharma market into therapy segments, showing a forecast for the size and growth for each category.

Here is the data for the top 15 segments, sorted by projected worldwide prescription drug sales in 2024:

RankTherapy Area2017 sales2024 salesCAGR
#1Oncology$104B$233B+12.2%
#2Anti-diabetics$46.1B$59.5B+3.3%
#3Anti-rheumatics$55.7B$56.7B+0.2%
#4Vaccines$27.7B$44.6B+7.1%
#5Anti-virals$42.4B$39.9B-0.9%
#6Immunosuppressants$13.7B$38.1B+15.7%
#7Bronchodilators$27.2B$32.3B+2.5%
#8Dermatologicals$12.9B$30.3B+13%
#9Sensory Organs$21.6B$26.9B+3.2%
#10Anti-hypertensives$23B$24.4B+0.8%
#11Anti-coagulants$16.8B$22.9B+4.6%
#12MS Therapies$22.7B$21.5B-0.8%
#13Anti-fibrinolytics$12.7B$20.4B+7.1%
#14Anti-hyperlipidaemics$11.3B$16.4B+5.5%
#15Anti-anaemics$7.6B$15.7B+11%
Other$379B$567B+5.9%
Total$825B$1249B+6.1%

This data, which comes from a recent report from EvaluatePharma, helps showcase a few key insights.

Firstly, the oncology therapy area – which makes drugs that are used to treat various forms of cancer – is by far the largest in the pharma world with $107 billion in sales in 2017. It’s also projected to maintain its dominance going forward, growing at an impressive 12.2% CAGR to $233 billion by 2024.

Next, while sales in cancer-related drugs will be the most in absolute terms, the fastest growing treatment area is actually in immunosuppressants – a segment of drugs that make a body less likely to reject a transplanted organ, such as a liver, heart, or kidney. It’s projected that this segment will grow at 15.7% per year, eventually becoming the sixth largest pharma segment at $38.1 billion in 2024.

Lastly, while sales in the pharma market will be averaging 6.1% in annual growth as a whole, there are two major segments that will see negative annual growth going forward: Anti-virals (-0.9%) and MS Therapies (-0.8%).

The Battle Against Cancer

Currently, there are more drugs used for treating cancer than for any other type of disease or condition.

RankDisease or ConditionNumber of active drugs
#1Breast cancer727
#2Lung cancer544
#3Colorectal cancer503
#4Ovarian cancer434
#5Pancreatic cancer430
#6Type-2 diabetes407
#7Prostate cancer381
-Alzheimer's disease381

Unfortunately, even though many cancer drugs are available on the market already, the debilitating disease is still a leading cause of death. Existing drugs are used in treatments of chemotherapy or hormone therapy, but it’s clear that there is still plenty of room for progress to be made against the disease.

For these reasons – combined with the estimate that nearly 40% of Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetimes – it’s no surprise to see that companies have yet even more cancer drugs in the pipeline:

RankTherapy areaNumber of drugs in pipeline
#1Anti-cancer5,212
#2Biotechnology4,751
#3Neurological2,604
#4Anti-infective2,238
#5Alimentary/metabolic2,237
#6Reformulations2,073
#7Musculoskeletal1,597
#8Dermatological929

As more drugs get approved from the above pipeline, it is projected that $1 of every $5 spent on prescription drugs in 2024 will be going towards cancer-related treatments.

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