The Opioid Epidemic: America’s Deadly Addiction

From a Lecture Series Presented by Professor Thad Polk, Ph.D.

Due to the recent opioid epidemic, the number of overdose deaths in the United States averages about 175 per day. This means that drug overdoses are now the single most common cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. What are the causes behind this devastating crisis?

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Professor Thad Polk attributes one of the causes of the epidemic to an increase in pharmaceutical companies and doctors advocating their use for chronic pain in the 1990s. In The Opioid Epidemic: America’s Deadly Addiction, we join award-winning professor of psychology to explore these shocking numbers as he delves into how opioids affect our brains, why they are so addictive, and what we can do to counter this crisis.

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Watch “The Opioid Epidemic: America’s Deadly Addiction” on The Great Courses Plus

Some Surprising Stats About the Opioid Epidemic:

  • In 2012 Doctors prescribed enough opioid prescriptions for every adult to have their own supply for an entire month.
  • In 2016, 12 states had recorded more prescriptions for painkillers than there were people.
  • 25% of people who are prescribed an opioid drug end up misusing it.
  • Over 2 million Americans are estimated to be addicted to opioids.
  • The term “gateway drug” is extremely relevant when it comes to opioids. 80% of heroin addicts turned to it after previously misusing a prescription painkiller.
Professor Thad Polk is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan. His course The Addictive Brain is available to stream now at The Great Courses Plus.

Keep Reading:
The Opioid Crisis: Fentanyl and The Dangers of Synthetic Opioids
The Science of Addiction: Why Are Opioids So Addictive?
Understanding Opioid Addiction: The Science of Addiction and Treatments


  1. I have chronic gout. It is extremely painful. For what ever reason the drug that clears it up is colchicine. I can’t understand why a clinic would give me 30 vicadone and 3 colcrys. I told them I needed 30 colcrys and 3 vicadone. I don’t take it all the time, only when I feel an attack is coming on. I tolerate it very well. The current condescending doctor won’t fill a prescription for colcrys. I told her I don’t like allopurinol, it doesn’t agree with me. I stopped taking it 2007. The doctor still gave me a prescription for it. I’ve had gout for 15 years, watch what I eat, WAS going to the gym, and generally trying to be healthy. I know what works and doesn’t. Vicadone only relives the pain temporary. You only need one attack to think, How do I make this stop.

  2. I’d trace the infatuation with prescription medication to a decision around the late 1970’s to advertise pharmaceuticals in print and over the airwaves. Until that time, the advertising of these kinds of medications was forbidden. Nowadays we are marinated in ads for erectile dysfunction, obesity, relief of pain, ad nauseum. Yep, even for nauseum. Advertising sows the seed of subsequent use. Too late to turn back.

  3. The question no one is asking is why? Why the fascination with opioids? Are people getting addicted by accident due to over prescription? Are people abusing these drugs just to get high? Why do people feel they need to get intoxicated in the first place? Are peoples lives so miserable and meaningless that they feel the need to zone out? We need to dig deeper into the psychology of the users to find out why people take these drugs in the first place.

  4. The reason these types of drugs are being abused is doctors are over subscribing them.
    Doctors and Dentists either do not know the heightened addiction potential or are getting some type of compensation for the prescriptions. People take the pain killer drugs for as little as a week or less and are hooked.
    So many stories will be told, in the mean time your beautiful children will become addicted due to a prescription for a sport related injury. This is happening 10,000 of times a year. Next is heroine, because it is cheaper, then death. !0,000 of pain killer deaths a year.
    You can’t believe it, sorry it is true.

  5. I must be somewhat different. I took all of the 30 vicadone for over a month until I got to see a doctor. I was so glad to get colcrys, I don’t crave it or miss it. That was 5 years ago. The only reason I have vicadone is when I get a gout flare, it cuts the pain until the gout medicine takes affect. I like feeling good. Vicadone does not make me feel good. Actually I don’t like taking anything. I wonder why I can’t get the non addicting colcrys…

  6. This is the cruelest form of punishment to people who live in constant unending pain. How dare the government take my medication away. I have never had a problem with it, been on them for 5 years! You do not know my pain!!!!!!!! I have had drug tests to be sure I am taking them. Pill counts. These are the types of measures that need to be in place. NOT TAKING THEM FROM PEOPLE IN PAIN!!!!! Scaring doctors from prescribing them. We might as well all quit our jobs and go on disability. Jeff Sessions says take an asprin and go to bed?!!??!!????? Some of us will STAY in bed forever. He is apparently a complete idiot! Tylenol will slowly kill your liver. Ibuprofen thins ur blood. They are ALL DANGEROUS. Opiates are probably the safest.

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