Addressing the Global Opioid Crisis

The U.S. is currently experiencing what experts are calling the “fourth wave” of the opioid epidemic.

Since 2000, the annual number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. has multiplied nearly six times over. The vast majority of these untimely deaths involve opioids and, most prevalently in recent years, synthetic varieties of opioids like fentanyl. The epidemic started with the proliferation of prescription opioid use, followed by a related jump in heroin use, then an increase in the use of synthetic strains. Today’s “fourth wave” involves the simultaneous use of multiple substances, with increased distribution of combined substances, such as fentanyl and methamphetamine, for example.

How the U.S. and UN Work Together

While there’s no question that drug use is detrimental to personal health and wellbeing, the harms caused by drug trafficking and illegal drug economies are contributing to and compounding some of our most intractable global threats like political instability and environmental devastation. Drug markets are also expanding in harm and scope, from the growing cocaine supply to drug sales on social media and synthetic drugs that can be cheaply manufactured anywhere in the world.

Illicit drug challenges pose difficult policy dilemmas that cannot be addressed by any one country or region alone. That’s why the U.S. works closely with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in efforts to curb the crisis. UNODC is a global leader in the fight against trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants, illicit drug use, narcotics trafficking, corruption, terrorism and transnational organized crime. Partnering with U.S. institutions, local and national enforcement agencies and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, UNODC is helping shape solutions in nations around the world who supply the materials and labor that fuel the epidemic.