Opioid pain medications were used in the early 1900s, primarily for acute pain and cancer patients. Through the years, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have documented the rise and abuse of opioids. In the timeline below, see how the medical field played a role in the spread of the opioid epidemic and the astonishing facts that plague our communities today.

How We Got Here

Opioid Epidemic Timeline


Opioid pain medications were used primarily for acute pain and cancer pain. Studies showing inadequate treatment by physicians of chronic, non-cancer pain led to an increased use of opioids.


OxyContin was approved, a oxycodone controlled-release drug. It was the first formulation of oxycodone that allowed dosing every 12 hours instead of every 4 to 6 hours. OxyContin would soon become a focal point of opioid abuse issues that would continue to escalate into the late 2000s and beyond.


Medical field supports notion that pain is the fifth vital sign and begins prescribing more such medications. Other vital signs include blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature.


Pain medications that contain oxycodone and hydrocodone become No. 1 prescription in U.S., leading to dependency outside of the traditional drug culture. Users in many cases moved on to heroin because it was cheaper.


In Ohio, there were 411 fatal unintentional drug overdoses in 2000. Reports of overdose and death from prescription pain drugs, especially OxyContin, began to rise sharply.


Unintentional drug poisoning became the leading cause of injury death in Ohio, surpassing motor vehicle crashes for the first time on record.


FDA approved a new formulation of OxyContin designed to deter abuse. There is a recommended voluntary market withdrawal of propoxyphene, sold under the name Darvon. New data showed the drug could cause serious toxicity to the heart, even in therapeutic doses.


Unintentional fatal drug overdoses cost Ohioans $2 billion in medical and work loss costs; non-fatal, hospital-admitted drug poisonings cost an additional $39.1 million. The total cost equaled an average of $5.4 million each day in medical and work loss costs in Ohio.


FDA issued a draft guidance to assist industry in developing new formulations of opioid drugs with abuse-deterrent properties, Guidance for Industry: Abuse-Deterrent Opioids – Evaluation and Labeling


Ohio’s death rate due to unintentional drug poisonings increased 642 percent since 2010, totaling 3,050. The increase in deaths was driven largely by opioid-related overdoses. FDA approved Narcan nasal spray, the first FDA-approved nasal spray version of naloxone hydrochloride, a life-saving medication that can temporarily stop or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.


On average, eight people die each day in Ohio and 13 in Pennsylvania due to unintentional drug overdoes . The FDA continues to research appropriate prescription opioid usage for pediatric patients.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention



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