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Drug overdoses are an epidemic

Drug overdose deaths have reached a record high in Mississippi, following trends seen in other states.

The New York Times reported that anywhere from 59,000-65,000 died from drug overdoses nationwide in 2016. The number was 10,000 in 2015.

That’s more than the peak number of gun deaths annually (in 1993), the peak number of deaths during the AIDS crisis (1995) and more than the peak number of car crash deaths (1972), the newspaper reported.

More Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 than were killed in the Vietnam War.

According to Mississippi health department officials, the number of heroin addiction patients treated has increased from 99 to 306. Heroin-related overdose deaths in Mississippi rose from one in 2011 to 35 in 2015.

Those numbers, both in Mississippi and nationally, are shocking. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among people under 50, according to the Times.

It’s a public health crisis that must be addressed. The culprit isn’t just illegal drugs, it’s legal pain medications, too. Painkillers that may have been prescribed for legitimate reasons too often end up in the hands of teens, other family members or on the black market.

Slowing the trend won’t be easy. Committing resources to treatment and recovery centers will be difficult in today’s political climate. Changes to Medicaid proposed in the American Health Care Act could mean fewer people can get help for addiction. Changing the way opioids are prescribed will take time and won’t be simple.

But if more isn’t done at the federal, state and local levels, the opioid crisis will continue to claim more American lives.