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"The Opioid Epidemic"

The Tired Narrative: 

The current overdose crisis in America is typically referred to as an "opioid epidemic." This has led the public and policymakers to singularly focus on opioids, typically ones like OxyContin that are prescribed by doctors, while ignoring other drugs like stimulants, benzodiazepines, and alcohol. 

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The Informed Narrative: 

While it is true that the single biggest engine of the overdose crisis are powerful opioids like illicit fentanyls a significant number of overdoses are also the result of multiple drug toxicity, known as polysubstance.


Drug-mixing drastically increases one's risk of fatally overdosing, and the public must be educated on this fact. Benzodiazepines, alcohol, and stimulants like meth and cocaine are often in the systems of overdose victims along with opioids. 

When journalists are tasked with reporting about the "opioid epidemic," they can avoid misplaced focus on only opioids by referring to it as an "overdose crisis." 


"Among synthetic opioid–related overdose deaths in 2016, almost 80 percent involved another drug or alcohol, like another opioid, heroin, cocaine, prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, alcohol, psychostimulants, and antidepressants," according to the CDC. Deaths related to stimulants, benzodiazepines, and alcohol have risen in tandem with opioid-related deaths. Singular focus on opioids misses the bigger picture and prioritizes solutions with limited impact.

Connect with Expert Sources:

Leo Beletsky, Northeastern University


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Maia Szalavitz, former user/journalist, Vice

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