A serious young girl backlit by sunlight in a dark room. (Getty)

If it feels like opioid abuse has reached crisis levels in your city or community, you’re not wrong: America’s current rate of opioid addiction is now the biggest drug epidemic in national history. Nearly 500,000 people have died from overdoses in the past 15 years, mostly from heroin and related substances — prompting the president to declare opioid addiction a national public health emergency in October.

It’s no secret drug abuse strains state and community resources such as hospitals, clinics and jails, but one trend should have Americans particularly disturbed: The growing number of kids in foster care.

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ST. JOHNSBURY, VT - FEBRUARY 06: Drugs are prepared to shoot intravenously by a user addicted to heroin on February 6, 2014 in St. Johnsbury Vermont. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin recently devoted his entire State of the State speech to the scourge of heroin. Heroin and other opiates have begun to devastate many communities in the Northeast and Midwest leading to a surge in fatal overdoses in a number of states. As prescription painkillers, such as the synthetic opiate OxyContin, become increasingly expensive and regulated, more and more Americans are turning to heroin to fight pain or to get high. Heroin, which has experienced a surge in production in places such as Afghanistan and parts of Central America, has a relatively inexpensive street price and provides a more powerful affect on the user. New York City police are currently investigating the death of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman who was found dead last Sunday with a needle in his arm. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In 2016 alone, prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl were responsible for more than 64,000 deaths. Fentanyl alone accounted for a 600 percent increase in opioid-related deaths between 2014 and 2016. In the journey to solve this epidemic, addiction researchers may have finally stumbled upon an answer that could one day save thousands of lives and slow down the tragedy eroding parts of the country--a vaccine that might inoculate the brain against drugs like heroin and other opioids.

While heroin and its prescription cousins, like Vicodin and oxycontin, are plenty addictive themselves, drug users have been turning to synthetic versions of these drugs that “can sometimes be as much as 100 times more potent than heroin,” said chemist Kim D. Janda of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in California at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society. Black market opiates are rumored to be as much as 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. “Moreover, many patients [are] receiving treatment relapse," Janda added.

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