The Spiraling Opioid Epidemic in America
Over the last 20 years, the ongoing U.S. opioid crisis has claimed tens of thousands of lives. In fact, opioid overdose deaths accounted for nearly 70% of all drug overdose deaths in 2018.
Although the damage of the opioid epidemic is well documented, what people might not know is that it has escalated in three distinct waves.
We pull the latest statistics from the UN World Drug Report 2020 to uncover the scope of the opioid crisis in the U.S., and how national drug-related death rates compare to other countries.
Three Waves of the Opioid Crisis
According to the CDC, the opioid epidemic can be traced back to the 1990s, when opioids started being over-prescribed for pain relief purposes.
- 1990s – Wave 1
Over-prescription of opioids for pain relief, including natural opioids, semi-synthetic opioids, and methadone. Addiction risks were widely downplayed.
- 2010 – Wave 2
Heroin-related overdose deaths on the rise.
- 2013 – Wave 3
Synthetic opioid-related deaths on the rise, particularly fentanyl and tramadol.
Here’s how that breaks down in terms of opioid-related overdose deaths over the years. Note that by the year 2018, 67% of overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
|Year||Any opioids||Heroin||Pharmaceutical opioids||Synthetic opioids|
Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and tramadol shot up by over 4,000% between 1999-2018. This can be attributed to two things: their relative potency, and the minute quantities of each that qualify as a lethal dose.
As per the medical and legal standard, opioids are often compared to morphine. To that end, heroin is 2-5x stronger—while fentanyl is 50-100x more potent. Put another way, roughly a dime-size or 10-12mg of heroin is considered a lethal dose, compared to only 1-2mg of fentanyl.
What’s worse, fentanyl is typically mixed with other types of drugs such as heroin or cocaine to increase their effects, which is how it ends up unintentionally ingested. Between 2008-2017, drug-use disorders as a whole claimed the most healthy lives due to poor health or early deaths—measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs)—followed in close second by opioid use disorders.
The Death Toll of U.S. Drug Overdoses
It’s undeniable that the opioid epidemic in America has caused significant harm to communities. But how does the U.S. drug crisis compare to the same issue in other countries?
The UN Drug Report further puts these numbers into perspective by comparing drug-related deaths per million population. Note that the source also compiled the total deaths across years for selected countries.
|Country (Latest Year)||Latest Years of Estimate||Total Deaths||Rate per 1M (Aged 15-64)|
|🇸🇻 El Salvador||2018||765||184.5|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||2016||269||88.6|
With 314.5 deaths per million, the U.S. by far had the highest proportion of drug-related deaths per million people in 2018. It also had the highest overall number at 67.4K deaths.
Elephant in the Room?
Another drug rearing its head on the streets is carfentanil. Formerly developed as ‘elephant tranquilizer’, this synthetic opioid is similar in appearance to other illicit drugs such as heroin, making it indistinguishable when mixed in. However, there’s one big problem—carfentanil is 100x more potent than fentanyl itself.
In response to the continued crisis, an additional $35.7 billion was requested for counter-drug funding efforts in the FY2021 Budget. This amount is expected to go towards prevention and treatment efforts ($18.6 billion) and law enforcement efforts ($17.1 billion) both domestically and internationally.
But will these efforts properly combat the crisis, or are we already in the midst of a fourth wave of the opioid epidemic?
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33 Problems With Media in One Chart
In this infographic, we catalog 33 problems with the social and mass media ecosystem.
33 Problems With Media in One Chart
One of the hallmarks of democratic society is a healthy, free-flowing media ecosystem.
In times past, that media ecosystem would include various mass media outlets, from newspapers to cable TV networks. Today, the internet and social media platforms have greatly expanded the scope and reach of communication within society.
Of course, journalism plays a key role within that ecosystem. High quality journalism and the unprecedented transparency of social media keeps power structures in check—and sometimes, these forces can drive genuine societal change. Reporters bring us news from the front lines of conflict, and uncover hard truths through investigative journalism.
That said, these positive impacts are sometimes overshadowed by harmful practices and negative externalities occurring in the media ecosystem.
The graphic above is an attempt to catalog problems within the media ecosystem as a basis for discussion. Many of the problems are easy to understand once they’re identified. However, in some cases, there is an interplay between these issues that is worth digging into. Below are a few of those instances.
Editor’s note: For a full list of sources, please go to the end of this article. If we missed a problem, let us know!
Explicit Bias vs. Implicit Bias
Broadly speaking, bias in media breaks down into two types: explicit and implicit.
Publishers with explicit biases will overtly dictate the types of stories that are covered in their publications and control the framing of those stories. They usually have a political or ideological leaning, and these outlets will use narrative fallacies or false balance in an effort to push their own agenda.
Unintentional filtering or skewing of information is referred to as implicit bias, and this can manifest in a few different ways. For example, a publication may turn a blind eye to a topic or issue because it would paint an advertiser in a bad light. These are called no fly zones, and given the financial struggles of the news industry, these no fly zones are becoming increasingly treacherous territory.
Misinformation vs. Disinformation
Both of these terms imply that information being shared is not factually sound. The key difference is that misinformation is unintentional, and disinformation is deliberately created to deceive people.
Fake news stories, and concepts like deepfakes, fall into the latter category. We broke down the entire spectrum of fake news and how to spot it, in a previous infographic.
Mass media and social feeds are the ultimate Darwinistic scenario for ideas.
Through social media, stories are shared widely by many participants, and the most compelling framing usually wins out. More often than not, it’s the pithy, provocative posts that spread the furthest. This process strips context away from an idea, potentially warping its meaning.
Video clips shared on social platforms are a prime example of context stripping in action. An (often shocking) event occurs, and it generates a massive amount of discussion despite the complete lack of context.
This unintentionally encourages viewers to stereotype the persons in the video and bring our own preconceived ideas to the table to help fill in the gaps.
Members of the media are also looking for punchy story angles to capture attention and prove the point they’re making in an article. This can lead to cherrypicking facts and ideas. Cherrypicking is especially problematic because the facts are often correct, so they make sense at face value, however, they lack important context.
Simplified models of the world make for compelling narratives, like good-vs-evil, but situations are often far more complex than what meets the eye.
The News Media Squeeze
It’s no secret that journalism is facing lean times. Newsrooms are operating with much smaller teams and budgets, and one result is ‘churnalism’. This term refers to the practice of publishing articles directly from wire services and public relations releases.
Churnalism not only replaces more rigorous forms of reporting—but also acts as an avenue for advertising and propaganda that is harder to distinguish from the news.
The increased sense of urgency to drive revenue is causing other problems as well. High-quality content is increasingly being hidden behind paywalls.
The end result is a two-tiered system, with subscribers receiving thoughtful, high-quality news, and everyone else accessing shallow or sensationalized content. That everyone else isn’t just people with lower incomes, it also largely includes younger people. The average age of today’s paid news subscriber is 50 years old, raising questions about the future of the subscription business model.
For outlets that rely on advertising, desperate times have called for desperate measures. User experience has taken a backseat to ad impressions, with ad clutter (e.g. auto-play videos, pop-ups, and prompts) interrupting content at every turn. Meanwhile, in the background, third-party trackers are still watching your every digital move, despite all the privacy opt-in prompts.
How Can We Fix the Problems with Media?
With great influence comes great responsibility. There is no easy fix to the issues that plague news and social media. But the first step is identifying these issues, and talking about them.
The more media literate we collectively become, the better equipped we will be to reform these broken systems, and push for accuracy and transparency in the communication channels that bind society together.
Visualizing the Current State of the Global Gender Gap
At our current rate of change, it will take up to 136 years to close the global gender gap. Here’s a look at gender inequality across regions.
The Current State of the Global Gender Gap
As a global society, we still have a long way to go before we reach gender equality around the world.
According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) latest Global Gender Gap Report, it could take up to 135.6 years to close the global gender gap, based on the current rate of change.
This graphic by Sebastian Gräff gives a breakdown of gender equality worldwide, showing how long it will take before each region reaches gender parity.
How Gender Gap is Measured
In its 15th edition, the Global Gender Gap Report analyzes gender-based discrepancies across 156 different countries. To gauge each region’s gender gap, the report digs into four key areas:
- Economic Participation and Opportunity
- Educational Attainment
- Health and Survival
- Political Empowerment
Each subindex is given its own score, then an average across the four pillars is calculated to give each country a final score between zero (exceptionally unequal) and one (completely equal).
Out of all the regions, Western Europe has the smallest gender gap, with a score of 0.78. At this rate, the gender gap in Western Europe could be closed in approximately 52.1 years, more than 83 years faster than the global estimate.
|Rank||Region||Overall Gender Gap Index (2021)|
|3||Latin America and the Caribbean||0.71|
|4||Eastern Europe and Central Asia||0.71|
|5||East Asia and the Pacific||0.69|
|8||Middle East and North Africa||0.61|
Western Europe scores particularly high in educational attainment (1.0) and health and survival (0.97). Here’s a look at the category breakdown for each region:
|Region||Economic Participation and Opportunity||Educational Attainment||Health and Survival||Political Empowerment|
|Latin America and the Caribbean||0.64||1.00||0.98||0.27|
|Eastern Europe and Central Asia||0.74||1.00||0.98||0.14|
|East Asia and the Pacific||0.70||0.98||0.95||0.14|
|Middle East and North Africa||0.41||0.94||0.97||0.12|
But it might be surprising to see that political empowerment in Western Europe received a score of only 0.44. This is higher than the global average for political empowerment of 0.21, but still indicative of a large gender gap in this area.
Globally, political empowerment tended to receive the lowest scores in the report, as women are grossly underrepresented in politics. A study by the Council of Foreign Relations revealed that out of 195 different countries’ national cabinets, only 14 countries had at least 50% of their ministerial positions held by women.
Economic participation and opportunity is the second weakest category, with a global average score of 0.58. A good example of how this gap manifests itself is in entrepreneurship and business, where women still struggle to find investors and gain access to venture capital. Further, on average, women continue to make less money than men. According to the UN, women across the globe make approximately 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
The Economic Benefit of Gender Equality
Research shows that empowering women in the workforce is in everyone’s best interest. Closing the gender gap in the global workforce could lead to a boost of more than $28 trillion to the global economy.
Yet across the globe, COVID-19 has created new challenges that have hindered our progress towards gender equality. This is partly because some of the sectors that have been impacted the most by COVID-19 restrictions, such as hospitality, food services, and personal care, are largely dominated by female workers.
As we continue to recover from the impact of COVID-19, world leaders will face numerous policy challenges, including how to build back better, creating more opportunities for women to thrive in the global economy.
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