A man and woman prepare to take their new baby home

Americans die every day from opioid overdose

America Addicted

October 2017

The opioid crisis is devastating communities across the nation. Overdose deaths are at record highs. How can the epidemic be stopped?

Sarah Beth Marcum holds her son, Hunter, who was discharged after 50 days of treatment for opioid withdrawal in Cabell-Huntington Hospital's neonatal therapeutic unit in West Virginia. Photo by Abbey Oldham.

Chapter 1

The Problem

America’s communities weren’t built to handle the opioid crisis. Across the nation, public services, health care providers and civil servants are overwhelmed by the shared burden of addiction. At their worst, opioids damage communities as severely as they damage individuals.

A doctor checks in with a newborn baby

Oct 2

Small child in her bedroom full of toys
Saving the babies of the opioid epidemic

One in five babies born in West Virginia’s Cabell County-Huntington Hospital were exposed to controlled substances during pregnancy, and as many as 400 require medication for withdrawal. Sara Murray opened a special neonatal unit five years ago to help care for the babies being weaned off opioids.

Oct 5

A man in a welding helmet
How the opioid crisis decimated the American workforce

In northeastern Ohio, employers say they see jobseekers all the time who look like “the walking dead,“ would-be workers struggling with opioid addiction. The problem is so great, reports economics correspondent Paul Solman, that it's had a noticeable effect on the nation's labor force.

Woman cries next to a police officer

Oct 2

A community overwhelmed by opioids

In Huntington, West Virginia, first responders face burnout after repeated calls, the foster care system strains to support the children of addicts and even the rain sewers are clogged with discarded needles. How can the community cope?

Chapter 2

The Drugs

An EMT treats a patient in an ambulance
We're talking about a substance that is poison. It's manufactured death.

— Michael Furguson, DEA

Oct 2

A bottle of prescription pills
How to safely dispose of pain medication

Unused opioid medications are dangerous to keep around your house. They can be fatal if ingested by children and teens often take drugs from their parents' medicine cabinets. So how can you safely dispose of old medicines?

Where do the drugs come from? How do they infiltrate communities? How do opiates alter the minds of users? Understanding the drugs is the first step in understanding the crisis.

Chapter 3
A doctor talks to a patient behind a curtain

The Treatments

There is no single treatment that ends opioid addiction. People who use the drugs and try to stop face a lifetime of recovery. While some rehab facilities prescribe other drugs to ease withdrawal, most state and federal programs favor a drug-free approach. Even in the course of reporting this series, we witnessed recovering addicts who relapsed.

Chapter 4
A drug bust in New Mexico

Oct 2

New Mexico deploys best practices to avoid the worst outcomes in the opioid crisis

While states nationwide have been scrambling to respond to the deadly opioid epidemic, New Mexico has been hard at work with an aggressive response for years. So why have its addiction rates remained stubbornly high? We visit a state caught between two powerful forces ... best-practice treatments … and the international forces supplying American addictions.

Go Deeper

Oct 8

A man speaks into the camera
In Kentucky, jail is becoming an addict’s last-resort rehab

Despite high levels of drug abuse among the jail population nationwide, few facilities offer drug treatment programs. But the Kentucky Department of Corrections reports that statewide, half the people who went through a substance abuse program in jail say they stayed off illegal drugs for at least a year.

Oct 2

A mother talks to her daughter through a doorway
How to talk to your kids about opioids

Even young teenagers will have heard about opioids and overdose deaths at some point. Pretending that opioid use is not a problem – or thinking that a child is a “good kid” and therefore doesn’t need to hear and talk about it – is a mistake.

Oct 9

A doctor talks to a patient
How one group of doctors drastically decreased opioid prescriptions

With addictions and overdoses surging over the past two decades, recent CDC guidelines urge doctors to avoid or dramatically limit the use of legal painkillers. In Southern California, a group of Kaiser Permanente doctors has been helping chronic pain patients “step down“ from high-dose opioids with the help of alternative therapies.