The current opioid epidemic has devastated families and communities and shattered lives. In 2018, 10.3 million Americans aged 12 or older misused prescription opioids, over 800,000 used heroin, and 2 million had an opioid use disorder. On average, 130 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose. While the crisis affects all states, it is most severe in the Northeast, Rust Belt (Midwest), Appalachia, and much of the South. Although substance abuse and addiction are complex social problems experienced by people from all walks of life, recent evidence suggests that opioid use disorder and social and economic disadvantage are often intertwined.
This introduction briefly describes: (1) the effects of the opioid crisis by age, gender, geography, and race and ethnicity; (2) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ strategy to address the crisis; and (3) the September 2019 poverty research and policy forum convened to better understand the effects of the opioid crisis on human services programs from achieving their goals, and how these effects can best be addressed.