Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary, Eric Hargan is in Atlanta this week at the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's the opioid crisis that's brought him south.
"The CDC is really the repository of the data, it's the surveillance of this crisis and we really need to understand what we are dealing with," says Hargan.
WSB health reporter Sabrina Cupit asked the Deputy Secretary, "in a word, how bad is it?" His response, "terrible!"
Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.
Hargan says,"in fact for the third year possibly we are going to see lower life expectancy in the United States because of drug overdoses and that should be startling to everyone in this country."
In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive.
An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin, according to the CDC.