The opioid overdose epidemic in the U.S. killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, which is more than any other year on record, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the opioids referenced include both heroin and prescription opioids, nearly half of overdose deaths involve the prescription drugs. Prescription opioids such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine and methadone are widely prescribed for pain relief. Initially, they were intended to treat severe pain following surgery or injury or due to illnesses such as cancer. However, they’re now increasingly prescribed for many types of pain, including chronic back pain or pain from osteoarthritis. Opioid prescriptions nearly quadrupled in the U.S. between 1999 and 2013, despite reported pain levels remaining stagnant. By 2014 nearly 2 million Americans were dependent on or had abused the drugs, and the situation is only getting worse. There are even reports that one opioid maker — Purdue Pharma — knowingly allowed its drugs to be funneled into the black market. Purdue Pharma is being sued by the city of Everett, Washington, which has been hard-hit by deaths from opioid painkiller and heroin abuse.

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