Sobering Stats on the Opioid Epidemic

Author: IAFF Staff

February 28, 2020

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[i], opioids were a factor in 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017 (67.8 percent of all drug overdose deaths). During the same year in Canada, approximately 11 deaths a day were linked to opioid-related overdoses.

While heroin was once the most common opioid on the streets, today’s prescription-grade opioids – such as methadone, oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl – are fueling today’s opioid abuse. While all prescription opioids have the potential to be dangerous and pose a high risk of addiction, the CDC reports synthetic opioids (other than methadone) are the primary driver of today’s drug overdose deaths.

Opioid pills spilling out of an orange prescription bottle in front of various other prescription bottles

Health experts agree that the opioid epidemic knows no race, class or gender – it affects the rich and poor, black and white, the old and the young, the educated and uneducated. 

“This epidemic is spreading so fast that in some cases IAFF members are responding to double the number of overdose calls from just a few years ago. They need more resources and training to continue to face this challenge head-on. Additionally, all levels of government and community need to be involved.

Is Opioid Abuse a Problem Among Fire Fighters/Paramedics?

We know that fire fighters and emergency medical service (EMS) personnel are on the frontlines battling the opioid crisis across the United States and Canada. But is opioid abuse disorder a problem within the fire service? The short answer is yes. The opioid epidemic touches all segments of the population therefore, the fire service community is not excluded.

Due to increased exposure to daily and traumatic stress on the job, we know that fire and EMS personnel are already at an increased risk for developing substance use disorders.

However, available data on the rate of substance use disorders among fire fighters has almost exclusively focused on alcohol use disorder and binge drinking. While we know fire and EMS personnel are not immune to the risks of opioid addiction, extremely limited – if any – research is available on the rate of opioid abuse and addiction among this occupational subgroup.  

Risks of Opioid Abuse

While experts agree the opioid epidemic impacts all segments of the population, some demographic groups may be at greater risk. The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has identified that males are at greater risk for opioid abuse, addiction and overdose, while individuals ages 18-24 are at greatest risk for opioid overdose.

Other general risk factors of opioid addiction include:

  • Receiving a high daily dose of opioid
  • Chronic pain
  • A history of substance abuse
  • A history of mental health disorders

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) adopted a comprehensive five-point strategy to combat the opioid crisis identifying the following priorities.

  1. Better Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Services
  2. Better Data on the Epidemic
  3. Better Pain Management
  4. Better Targeting of Overdose-Reversing Drugs
  5. Better Research on Pain and Addiction

Learn more about the HHS five-point strategy.

Outdoor view of a gazebo and building at the IAFF Center of Excellence

Treating opioid addiction requires a multi-pronged approach that involves detox, medication-assisted treatment, behavioral therapy, and strong social support.

The IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery is a comprehensive treatment center designed exclusively for IAFF members struggling with addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other co-occurring mental health problems. Call today for a no-obligation, free and confidential screening for you or a loved one.

Lauren Kosc, M.A., LCPC is a behavioral health specialist, clinician and blog writer for the International Association of Fire Fighters. If you are an IAFF member in recovery and want to share your story, contact [email protected].


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