Charted: The Spiraling Opioid Epidemic in America
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The Spiraling Opioid Epidemic in America

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US Opioid Epidemic Spiral in America

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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.

YearAny opioidsHeroinPharmaceutical opioidsSynthetic opioids
19998,0501,9603,533730
20008,4071,8423,903782
20019,4961,7794,935957
200211,9202,0896,7741,295
200312,9402,0807,8391,400
200413,7561,8789,0761,664
200514,9182,00910,2341,742
200617,5452,08812,4232,707
200718,5162,39913,6762,213
200819,5823,04114,0432,306
200920,4223,27814,4312,946
201021,0893,03615,5203,007
201122,7844,39716,1112,666
201223,1665,92515,0722,628
201325,0528,25713,9373,105
201428,64710,57415,5595,544
201533,09112,98916,0289,580
201642,24915,46917,86019,413
201747,60015,48217,68928,466
201846,80214,99615,57531,335

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 EstimateTotal DeathsRate per 1M (Aged 15-64)
🇺🇸 U.S.201867,367314.5
🇦🇺 Australia2016-20173,240202.6
🇸🇻 El Salvador2018765184.5
🇨🇦 Canada 20184,460179.8
🇺🇾 Uruguay2016264119.4
🇮🇸 Iceland2012-201623105.2
🇸🇪 Sweden201757592.9
🇳🇿 New Zealand201626988.6
🇫🇮 Finland201728983.9
🇬🇧 UK20173,54783

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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10 Travel Destinations for Post-Pandemic Life

Excited to get back to travelling the world? This infographic highlights the 10 most popular tourist destinations.

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10 Travel Destinations for Post-Pandemic Life

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization formally classified the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. The resulting travel bans decimated the tourism industry, and international air travel initially fell by as much as 98%.

Almost two years later, travel is finally back on the table, though there are many restrictions to consider. Regardless, a survey conducted in September 2021 found that, as things revert to normalcy, 82% of Americans are looking forward to international travel more than anything else.

To give inspiration for your next vacation (whenever that may be), this infographic lists the 10 most visited countries in 2019, as well as three of their top attractions according to Google Maps.

Bon Voyage

Here were the 10 most popular travel destinations in 2019, measured by their number of international arrivals.

CountryNumber of international arrivals in 2019 (millions)
🇫🇷 France*90.0
🇪🇸 Spain83.5
🇺🇸 U.S.79.3
🇨🇳 China65.7
🇮🇹 Italy64.5
🇹🇷 Turkey51.2
🇲🇽 Mexico45.0
🇹🇭 Thailand39.8
🇩🇪 Germany39.6
🇬🇧 United Kingdom39.4

*Estimate | Source: World Bank

France was the most popular travel destination by a significant margin, and it’s easy to see why. The country is home to many of the world’s most renowned sights, including the Arc de Triomphe and Louvre Museum.

The Arc de Triomphe was built in the early 1800s, and honors those who died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. In 1944, Allied soldiers marched through the monument after Paris was liberated from the Nazis.

The Louvre Museum, on the other hand, is often recognized by its giant glass pyramid. The museum houses over 480,000 works of art, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Art isn’t the only thing that France has to offer. The country has a reputation for culinary excellence, and is home to 632 Michelin-starred restaurants, the most out of any country. Japan comes in at second, with 413.

While You’re There…

After seeing the sights in Paris, you may want to consider a visit to Spain. The country is the southern neighbor of France and is known for its beautiful villages and beaches.

One of its most impressive sights is the Sagrada Familia, a massive 440,000 square feet church which began construction in 1882, and is still being worked on today (139 years in the making). The video below shows the structure’s striking evolution.

At a height of 172 meters, the Sagrada Familia is approximately 52 stories tall.

Another popular spot is Ibiza, an island off the coast of Spain that is famous for its robust nightlife scene. The island is frequently mentioned in pop culture—Netflix released an adventure/romance movie titled Ibiza in 2018, and the remix of Mike Posner’s song I Took a Pill in Ibiza has over 1.4 billion views on YouTube.

Beaches Galore

If you’re looking for something outside of Europe, consider Mexico or Thailand, which are the 7th and 8th most popular travel destinations. Both offer hot weather and an abundance of white sand beaches.

If you need even more convincing, check out these links:

Expect Turbulence

Under normal circumstances, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year by international tourists. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTCC), this spending accounted for an impressive 10.4% of global GDP in 2019.

Travel restrictions introduced in 2020 dealt a serious blow to the industry, reducing its share of global GDP to 5.5%, and wiping out an estimated 62 million jobs. While the WTCC believes these jobs could return by 2022, the emerging Omicron variant has already prompted many countries to tighten restrictions once again.

To avoid headaches in the future, make sure you fully understand the rules and restrictions of where you’re heading.

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Which Values Children Should Be Encouraged to Learn, By Country

Which qualities do people think are most important for children to learn? The answer differs from country to country.

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Qualities Children Should Learn

Many of the values we prioritize as adults were instilled in us during our childhood days.

They’re called our formative years for a reason—from when we’re born up until we’re about eight years old, our brains are easily molded and remain highly sensitive to external influences and environments. But depending on where you grew up, you may have been exposed to different values during your childhood compared to someone from another place.

These visualizations by Anders Sundell illustrate the most important values people think children should learn at home, across more than 80 different countries.

Methodology

Sundell used data from the World Values Survey, an international survey that interviews hundreds of thousands of participants from across the globe. Respondents were asked to pick up to five qualities they believe are the most desirable for children to have:

  • Good manners
  • Independence
  • Hard work
  • Feeling of responsibility
  • Imagination
  • Tolerance and respect for other people
  • Thrift, saving money
  • Determination and perseverance
  • Religious faith
  • Unselfishness
  • Obedience

Sundell took the survey data and calculated the proportion of people in each country that selected each quality. From there, he took the top qualities and created three separate plot graphs to show the contrast between them.

Let’s look at the importance that countries placed on different values, including (1) independence and obedience, (2) unselfishness and religious faith, and (3) hard work and imagination.

1. Independence vs Obedience

Nordic countries value independence greatly, and find obedience to be a less important quality to instill in children.

Independence_vs_Obedience

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Other available data also supports that adults in Nordic countries value independence. According to Eurostat, the most common age to leave home in Sweden is between 17 and 18—nearly a decade sooner than the average age across the EU (26 years old).

Denmark’s average age to leave home is also below the European average, at 21 years old.

On the other end of the spectrum, countries like Iraq and Egypt believe obedience is much more important for children to learn.

2. Unselfishness vs Religious Faith

Bangladesh, Egypt, and Jordan all place a strong emphasis on faith, and fall on the far right of this graph.

unselfishness_versus_faith

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Islam is a strong influence in all three of these countries. In Bangladesh and Jordan, it’s the official state religion. And while Egypt is a secular country, a majority of citizens identify as Muslim—about 90% of the population.

Interestingly, places like the U.S. and Hong Kong fall right in the between, placing relatively equal importance on religion and unselfishness.

3. Hard Work vs Imagination

Left-leaning Nordic countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland think imagination is more important for children to learn than hard work.

Hardwork_versus_imagination

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Interestingly, Japan also scored high for imagination, seeing it was a more important value to teach children than hard work. This is despite the fact that the country has an international reputation for being a hardworking country, where even taking an extended vacation can be frowned upon. Then again, Japan has a reputation for producing wildly creative works of art that are popular internationally (anime, for instance).

As expected, countries and cultures contain multitudes, and can often seem paradoxical and complex to those who try to codify them.

What qualities do you think are most important, and what countries surprised you with their placements?

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