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The Opioid Crisis: a Comprehensive Overview

  • Other Pain (A Kaye and N Vadivelu, Section Editors)
  • Published:
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Purpose of Review

The opioid crisis most likely is the most profound public health crisis our nation has faced. In 2015 alone, 52,000 people died of drug overdoses, with over 30,000 of those people dying from opioid drugs. A recent community forum led by the Cleveland Clinic contrasted this yearly death rate with the loss of 58,000 American lives in 4 years of the Vietnam War. The present review describes the origins of this opioid epidemic and provides context for our present circumstances.

Recent Findings

Alarmingly, the overwhelming majority of opioid abusers begin their addiction with prescription medications, primarily for chronic pain. Chronic postoperative pain, which occurs in 10–50% of surgical patients, is a major concern in many types of surgery. Nationwide, the medical community has made it a priority to ensure that postsurgical analgesia is sufficient to control pain without increasing non-medically appropriate opioid use.


The opioid epidemic remains a significant pressing issue and will not resolve easily. Numerous factors, including the inappropriate prescription of opioids, lack of understanding of the potential adverse effects of long-term therapy, opioid misuse, abuse, and dependence, have contributed to the current crisis.

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Correspondence to Nalini Vadivelu.

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Conflict of Interest

Nalini Vadivelu, Alice M. Kai, Vijay Kodumudi, and Julie Sramcik declare no conflict of interest. Dr. Kaye is a speaker for Depomed, Inc., and Merck, Inc.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Other Pain

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Vadivelu, N., Kai, A.M., Kodumudi, V. et al. The Opioid Crisis: a Comprehensive Overview. Curr Pain Headache Rep 22, 16 (2018).

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