The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention breaks the opioid epidemic into three waves. The first wave began with the introduction of OxyContin—the highly addictive painkiller made by Purdue Pharma and introduced in 1996—and an increase in prescribing opioids. Spiked opioid addiction rates quickly followed.
A significant rise in heroin overdose deaths marked the second wave in 2010. A third wave followed in 2013 with the sharp jump in overdose deaths connected to synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl, according to the CDC. From 1999 to 2019, close to 500,000 people died due to opioid overdoses.