If every Ohio University student and seven of their closest friends gathered together, that wouldn’t be enough people to represent those across the world who died from drug use in 2017.
In 2017, at least 190,000 people globally died prematurely from drugs, the majority were because of the use of opioids, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2017 World Drug Report. For context, Ohio University had about 20,884 graduate, undergraduate and medical students enrolled at its main campus during the 2017 fall semester.
“These drugs remain serious concerns, and the opioid crisis shows little sign of stopping,” the 2017 World Drug Report stated.
Opiates are usually drugs that are obtained from opium and can also include synthetic drugs based on drugs obtained from opium, Stephen Bergmeier, a professor in and chair of Ohio University’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, said in a lecture. Opium has been used for more than 400 years to treat ailments such as coughs and diarrhea.
From 1999 to 2016, more than 630,000 people in the United States died from a drug overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, and are often prescribed these drugs for pain.
“Opioids can also make people feel very relaxed and ‘high’ — which is why they are sometimes used for non-medical reasons,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported. “This can be dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdoses and death are common.”
Winnie Lee, an Ohio University chemistry student who took part in the 2018 Ohio-Leipzig Transatlantic Summit, said studying opioids is important so people understand what is actually happening to the body when they take these drugs.
“There’s a huge stigma behind opioid addiction and substance abuse that needs to be ended because everyone is getting over prescribed these drugs and getting accidentally addicted,” she said. “People need to know the reason behind that and what is actually happening behind the scenes.”
Ohio has the second-highest drug overdose death rates in the United States with nearly 40 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016. In the same year, West Virginia, which is only about 38 miles from Athens, Ohio, had about 52 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the U.S., drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone doubled between 2015 and 2016, but other places in the world are starting to see similar trends.
Overdose deaths in Germany rose between 2014 and 2015, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, and opioids remained the most common cause of drug-induced deaths in the country with it being present in nearly 80 percent of those deaths.
Germany also had the third-highest level of consumption of narcotic drugs in “defined daily doses,” following the U.S. and Canada, according to a report by the International Narcotics Control Board.
As opioids become a global problem, many are looking for solutions. Ohio University and University Leipzig students have used this year’s Ohio-Leipzig Transatlantic Summit to focus on finding solutions to fight opioid use.
Julie Ciotola, an Ohio University journalism student who took part in the program, said the statistics about opioids are “devastating but not surprising.”
“This is a huge problem worldwide, and as we get older it’s only going to get worse unless we take action,” she said. “It’s important to become conscious of this now so that as we move into our professional careers we are aware of the issue and enact some real change.”