In 2016 and 2017, opioid overdoses killed more Americans than the Vietnam War and more than deaths due to HIV/AIDS during that epidemic´s peak in 1995. As this immense public-health crisis goes unabated, overdose deaths are increasing rapidly around the globe. By end of 2017, opioid deaths in Canada surpassed 4000 and Australia had registered the highest number of overdose deaths in twenty years. Since 2014, the number of overdose deaths in Europe has increased every year. In many other regions people die from overdose without it being properly recorded. Indeed, overdose is affecting families around the globe. In many places this goes largely undocumented.
A growing share of overdose deaths is associated with (prescribed and illicit) fentanyl, its analogues or other synthetic opioids – in Canada from 5% in 2012 to nearly 80% in 2017.
The present response to acute opioid overdose, if existent, is designed around the availability of the antidote naloxone. The burden of effectiveness for the actual response relies largely on professional first responders, and is characterized by 20th century communication infrastructures and tools, which do not facilitate rapid and accurately coordinated responses to overdoses. The enormous potential for volunteer action associated with the high level of awareness and concern over the opioid crisis among the public is not utilized.