North America is facing an epidemic of opioid addiction and opioid overdose with an unprecedented level of mortality. The crisis was spurred by a broad expansion of medical use of opioids, which began in the 1990s as a legitimate response to the under-treatment of pain, but which was soon exploited by the unethical behavior of pharmaceutical companies eager to increase their revenue. The rise in supply fed high levels of diversion among an economically stressed and vulnerable population.
The present wave of opioid dependence differs from the heroin crises of the 1980s and 1990s, both in the sheer extent and in the social backgrounds of a large part of the affected populations. In Canada, which is second only in per capita opioid consumption to the United States, the rise in fatal overdoses is more linked to higher potency or ad-mixing of other drugs in areas where there was already a relatively high incidence of heroin use.
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