From Columbus, Ohio to Guerrero, Mexico and countless cities in between, the opioid epidemic has ravaged communities on both sides of the border. In 2016, nearly 50,000 people died of opioid overdoses in the United States. From 2000 to 2016, more Americans died of overdoses than died in WWI and WWII combined. Running parallel to this time period, consumption of prescription opioids in the United States quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, peaking at 250 million prescriptions per year. And complicating the opioid epidemic has been the rise of fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid added to heroin by drug dealers, contributing to the significant rise of deaths from synthetic opioids within the past few years.
Yet in the face of this terrifying epidemic, the world has remained largely complacent. How will the growing crisis affect our national security, public health and GDP? And what can governments and international organizations learn from the North American crisis?
On Thursday, May 24, Brookings screened episode one of the SHOWTIME documentary series “The Trade”. This timely, provocative five-episode docu-series spotlights the opioid crisis through the eyes of those most affected: the growers, addicts, cartel bosses and law enforcement hopelessly caught in its web. After the screening, discussants unpacked the causes, modalities, and consequences of the North American opioid epidemic, detailed policy recommendations for the United States, and discussed how to prevent its spread globally.