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Office of Neuroscience Research > WUSTL Neuroscience News > WashU Expert: Opioid emergency needs science-based solutions

WashU Expert: Opioid emergency needs science-based solutions

From the WashU Newsroom...

President Donald Trump declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency is an important statement and first step toward admitting a problem, said an expert on opioid addiction at Washington University in St. Louis, while warning that without science-informed solutions and plans of action, the epidemic will worsen.

The nation has seen three drug epidemics, said David Patterson Silver Wolf, associate professor at the Brown School and an expert on substance use disorder treatment services.

“The first was a heroin epidemic during the closing years of the Vietnam War,” he said. “The death rate during that epidemic was about 1 per 100,000 people. Our second occurred in the early 1980s during the crack epidemic. The death rate during this epidemic was about 2 per 100,000. Our current opioid overdose epidemic’s death rate is about 10 per 100,000.”

Over 52,000 Americans died in 2015, Patterson said.

“In 2016, it is likely that 65,000 people died from an opioid overdose,” he said. “Today, about 100 Americans will die as the direct result of this epidemic. The daily rate of deaths in the U.S. is likely to continue increasing with virtually no end in sight.”


“The path for individuals to develop an opioid use disorder is very easy to travel,” Patterson said. “The path for individuals to obtain treatment for an opioid use disorder is laden with perilous obstacles and barriers.”

“Throughout our country, we can still walk into most health-care systems and on that same day, leave with a prescription for opioids. According to the U.S. Health and Human Services Administration, every day more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed in America. The initiation period toward an opioid addiction is swift and fatal,” he said.

Unfortunately, Patterson said, if an American is interested in seeking some level of substance use disorder treatment, they most likely will experience a long wait period and, if they survive and maintain their place on the list, they will encounter a system that is underfunded, understaffed and overburdened. 

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