In the last half-century, the United States has endured three major drug epidemics. The first began in the 1970s, around the end of the Vietnam War when veterans returned home addicted to heroin. The death rate due to overdoses at that time was about 1 per 100,000 people. America’s second drug epidemic happened in the 1980 and 1990s with crack cocaine. The overdose death rate doubled to almost 2 per 100,000.
As terrible as they were, the devastation wreaked by those two epidemics pales in comparison with today’s opioid crisis. Fatal overdoses attributed to opioids alone now claim about 47,000 American lives a year — a rate of 14 per 100,000.