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Current Epidemics in the U.S.


Nurses are front-line heroes who have taken their rightful place in the hearts of citizens as they battle a deadly pandemic. However, they also face a slate of current epidemics in the U.S. that are being overshadowed by COVID-19. Clinicians deal with a number of overlooked epidemics every day in urban medical centers, community hospitals, and physicians’ offices alike. Some of the hidden epidemics include opioid addiction, drug-resistant infections, teen suicide, and mental illness.


Individuals interested in battling these illnesses and diseases may want to pursue an advanced nursing career. Graduate degree programs, such as Maryville University’s online master’s in nursing, can help nurses develop the skills needed to help patients overcome major health conditions.

Opioid Addiction

Cases of opioid addiction have risen to epidemic proportions over the past few years. Some opioids are legal prescription painkillers (oxycodone, codeine) while others are illegal drugs (heroin), but they are all highly addictive. Opioids may lead to drug tolerance, wherein users need to increase the doses they take to achieve the same effect.


Taking opioids for an extended period causes dependence, which means that people who stop taking them will likely have withdrawal symptoms. Individuals who become addicted may jeopardize their relationships, careers, and, ultimately, their lives, as addiction can lead to overdose and other serious health problems. Nurses can help curb the impacts of opioid addiction by identifying and educating at-risk patients, diverting patients to proper treatment resources, and monitoring patient progress.

Opioid Addiction Statistics

  • Around a quarter of patients who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain end up misusing the drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  • Some 5% of patients who misuse prescription opioids begin taking heroin.
  • In 2019, about 50,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • The annual economic impact of opioid misuse for the U.S. economy is estimated to be $78.5 billion.

Drug-Resistant Bacterial Infections

For years, the CDC and other medical groups have warned against the emergence of drug-resistant bacterial infections. These “superbugs” are mutations of bacteria that have grown stronger over time due to overuse or improper use of antibiotics.


MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a particularly stubborn infection that is experienced in virtually every hospital at an increasingly alarming pace. Nurses are even seeing patients who enter the care setting with MRSA already in their systems. This is especially true of individuals who are HIV-positive or have a life-threatening case of the flu. To help lower infection rates, nurses must be vigilant in following infection control procedures, including cleaning and disinfection protocols, as well as in monitoring antibiotic use among patients.

Bacterial Infection Statistics

  • The U.S. sees some 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections annually, according to the CDC.
  • More than 35,000 people in the U.S. die from antibiotic-resistant infections annually.
  • The CDC classifies five infections — carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter, Clostridioides difficile, Candida auris, drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae — as urgent threats. Nearly a dozen more are classified as serious threats.

Teen Suicide

One area where nurses can have a positive impact on a community’s well-being is by reaching out to teens who are struggling with family troubles, social pressures, mental health conditions, or other issues that might lead to suicidal thoughts. The medical community has seen a disturbing increase in teen suicides and suicide attempts in recent decades. Medical personnel, families, and other concerned parties should learn how to identify early warning signs, which may be mistakenly attributed to the general angst that comes with being a teenager in today’s world.


Nurses who work in a school, community, or family practice setting can help teens by teaching healthy habits and self-care strategies such as participating in stress-management activities. They should also know how to connect at-risk patients with counseling, medical care, or other resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). By working to reduce the teen suicide epidemic, today’s nurses and nurse practitioners can make a lifesaving difference for families in their communities.

Teen Suicide Statistics

  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in youths between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
  • Between 2000 and 2017, youth suicide rates grew 56%.
  • Every day in the U.S., an average of more than 3,000 suicide attempts are made by high schoolers, according to The Jason Foundation.
  • Four out of five teenagers who attempt suicide have displayed major warning signs.

Mental Health Disorders

Mental health is another current epidemic in the U.S. and a growing concern among health care professionals. Mental health disorders are a leading cause of disability in the US and globally, and many patients suffer from more than one condition simultaneously, according to the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders. Common disorders include depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.


Research has shown that disease outbreaks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can create or exacerbate mental health issues across society. Individuals who have no history of mental health problems might experience new psychiatric symptoms, while those with preexisting mental illnesses might see a worsening of symptoms. Issues such as the loss of a loved one or being isolated in quarantine can trigger mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.


Early detection and the identification of vulnerable groups can help caregivers introduce helpful interventions. Health personnel should be trained to identify and manage psychological distress in patients and to help coordinate care with mental health professionals.

Mental Illness Statistics

  • Some 20% of U.S. adults experience mental illness each year; about 4% experience serious mental illness (SMI), according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  • Nearly 10% of U.S. adults experience a depressive illness (major depression, dysthymia, or bipolar disorder) each year, according to John Hopkins Medicine.
  • Women suffer from major depression at nearly twice the rate of men.
  • Among mixed/multiracial adults, the rate of mental illness is 27%; among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults, it is 37%, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Explore How You Can Help with a Career in Nursing

If you are inspired to help fight these current epidemics in the U.S., check out Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program. The student-centered program offers five advanced nurse practitioner concentrations to help you transform the healthcare system and your career.


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