Drug abuse, addiction, and overdoses are phenomenon’s that are not new or unfamiliar to the United States. Between 1999 to 2017, there were over 700,000 drug overdose deaths in the country. About 400,000 of those drug overdoses involved an opioid. In 2017, more than 70,000 people died of a drug overdoses and 68% of them involved an opioid. This makes the number of opioid drug overdose deaths in 2017 six times higher than in 1999 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). The severity of the increase in opioid related overdose deaths that America is experiencing today did not happen randomly. The growing number of citizens who are addicted to opioids and overdosing on them has become a cause for concern for citizens, public officials, and government agencies. In 2016, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 56% of Americans knew someone who abused, was addicted to, or died from an opioid overdose (Dijulio, Firth, Hamel, & Brodie, 2015).

The opioid epidemic in the United States has a long history beginning in the mid-1990s. When attempting to understand why the United States is facing this crisis it’s necessary to dive deep into the history of how opioids have become prominent all over the country. This epidemic did not happen overnight – quite the opposite. It has been a long and painful journey of addiction, pain, and death. This paper is intended to dig into the history of the opioid epidemic in America and explain how it came to be declared a public health emergency by our government in 2017 (Jones, 2018). An epidemic that is unique to the United States, it is worth analyzing what differs in American history that led to an epidemic that kills an average of 130 Americans per day (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).

Publication Date


Document Type

Master's Project

Student Type


Degree Name

Criminal Justice (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

Department of Criminal Justice (CLA)


Irshad Altheimer


RIT – Main Campus