Medical Crisis Special

Premieres Wednesday, January 17 at 9:00pm
Sunday, Jan 21 at 4:00 pm

Understanding the Opioid Epidemic is a one-hour PBS documentary that traces the causes behind the unprecedented growth in the use of prescription opioids and the devastating impact these drugs are having in virtually every part of America:

  • Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. The majority of drug overdose deaths in the United States involve an opioid. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
  • Overuse of opioid painkillers is fueling the current epidemic. Opioids include prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. According to the CDC, overdose deaths from prescription opioids – drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone – have more than quadrupled since 1999.
  • The opioid epidemic is different from previous drug crises in the United States. There is opioid abuse, addiction and death in virtually every area of the country and opioid abuse reaches into every neighborhood and socioeconomic group. According to the CDC, drug overdoses have increased among men and women, all races and adults of nearly all ages.

Through personal stories and interviews with experts, Understanding the Opioid Epidemic reveals the tragic impact of the overuse of prescription painkillers on individuals, families and communities. They are stories that often begin with medical treatment for moderate to severe pain that evolve into drug addiction and death. In addition to the personal stories of those impacted by the opioid crisis, the documentary explores the dramatic increase in the use and acceptance of prescription painkillers.

"Opioid addiction has devastated lives and communities in Alabama and throughout the country," said Roy Clem, executive director of Alabama Public Television. "This program and its companion website will allow classrooms, community organizations and individuals and learn more about the issue and possible solutions."

The program addresses possible solutions to the opioid epidemic including more non-drug treatment for pain, improved opioid prescribing, and reducing the amount of opioids produced and prescribed in America. The best solution is preventing people from becoming addicted in the first place. But there is also a critical need for more and better treatment of those already addicted to opioids.

Understanding the Opioid Epidemic is accompanied by a nationwide education and community engagement component. Videos, education materials (grades 7-12 curriculum), and a community engagement toolkit and other extensive resources are available on the program’s companion website: Funding for the program was provided by BlueCross BlueShield Association and the Brain Research Foundation.