Echoing a recent White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statement, an expert in emergency medicine says the nation — and indeed, society — needs to do more to “confront the truth of the opiate addiction crisis.”

“Opiates and opiate-related overdoses are now a leading cause of death in our population,” said John Burton, M.D., Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Carilion Clinic and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “Affected individuals represent all age, gender, race, socioeconomic, and educational groups within our society.”

Data released by the CDC last week show that despite new efforts, overdose deaths associated with prescription and illicit opioids continued to increase in 2015, to 33,091.

Overdose deaths involving opioids rose by nearly 5,000 nationwide from 2014 to 2015, according to data compiled from the CDC’s WONDER database.

Perhaps most concerning, heroin-related deaths increased, too, boosting those causes of death ahead of those from gun homicides for the first time in more than a decade.

“The relationship between analgesic-intended opiates and heroin cannot be underemphasized,” Burton said. “Opiates, obtained through illicit drug diversion as well as through medical provider prescribing practices, serve as a ‘gateway’ that too often leads to heroin addiction including circumstances when excessive periods or amounts of opiates are used.”

For those already affected by addiction, programs for rehabilitation and recovery are “essential investments that our society must pursue,” Burton said.

“Law enforcement and federal and state legislation represent other areas of significant opportunity to affect the consequences of addiction and overdose in our country amidst this public health crisis.”

About Burton

John Burton, M.D., is Chief of Emergency Services in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Carilion Clinic. He holds professorships in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

Read his bio.

Schedule an interview

To secure an interview with Burton, contact Bill Foy in the Virginia Tech Media Relations office at 540-231-8719.

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