The Opioid Crisis Is Getting Worse – What Should We Do About It?
Other than alcohol abuse, the opioid crisis in North America is the worst drug crisis in the history of the continent. To put it all into perspective, 64,000 people died in 2016 due to opioids, which means they killed nearly more people than guns and car accidents combined.
According to Forbes magazine, guns kill around 32,000 people per year, around half due to suicide, a portion due to accidents, and the others coming from police shootings.
On the other hand, car accidents caused ~34,000 deaths in 2016. You can do the math. The number of people who died from opioids is nearly the same as the two mentioned above put together.
Understandably, the issue has garnered a lot of attention from nearly everyone in the public’s sphere, including the president.
Trump and The Federal Government
Last year, Trump said the opioid epidemic was a “public health emergency,” but didn’t say it was a “national emergency.” Supposedly, had he decried it as a “national emergency,” the federal government would’ve had to provide assistance to each state.
Either way, his statements caused him a lot of grief in the press, as they criticized him for not giving the states federal funds to address the problem.
The government released official data on the crisis back in 2016 and they confirmed the rates of overdoses had increased by 540 percent in just a matter of three years.
Specifically, the use of fentanyl has led to the massive increase in fatalities, and the issue is blind to race and class, as people like Prince have died from fentanyl as well.
The singer passed away back in 2016 due to fentanyl-laced Vicodin.
Who Are We Blaming?
And according to the New York Times, most are blaming doctors and the drug companies but the insurance companies might be playing a role too. Insurers allegedly increase the accessibility of the drugs rather than the medications which can afford to thwart addictions.
They do this by purchasing contracts for the drugs rather than the medications to deal with substance abuse.
Moreover, as more people overdose and die, medical examiners everywhere are overloaded with work, so much to the point that some of them, including Dr. Thomas A Andrew of New Hampshire, have quit their medical practice and have become activists for stopping drug abuse.
New Hampshire has the most deaths per capita from synthetic opioids. More than any other state in the United States and Dr. Thomas A Andrew claimed the opioid crisis has not been overhyped at all. And it appears to be getting worse every year.
And considering how the drug laws work, heroin users are thrown in jail rather than in treatment centers, while being cut off from their drug supply during their incarceration.
However, some states including Connecticut have been trying something new, a harm-reduction practice rather than prohibitive or punitive strategies.
As for how the drugs are getting around, some are blaming the internet, despite the fact that the internet is just a medium for sharing information.
Don’t Blame The Internet
And considering the explosion of social media in the last fifteen years, internet forums have supposedly played a role in dealing drugs and providing a “safe” spot for users. However, internet forums are merely a reflection of society.
In other words, forums are merely places where people belonging to different subcultures gather. If we choose to regulate the internet, it would be akin to shooting the messenger.
Nevertheless, it has been difficult for the police to nab those people who are using the internet as a means of selling narcotics.
If There’s A Market For It, People Will Sell It
Unfortunately, whenever they arrest people who are selling fentanyl across the web, someone else fills that void. It’s the same old story, where there’s market, the product continues to exist.
This doesn’t take away from the severity of the problem, of course, as this issue has hit close to home for a lot of people, considering the number of the people affected.
The truth is that most people know at least someone who has died from either OxyContin or Fentanyl.
Most People Know Someone Who Has Died From Opiates
A few years ago, I heard a story from a friend of mine about someone he knew who dropped his family’s inheritance almost entirely on OxyContin.
It was just him and his sister living with their mother, no father around, but they got along well as a family.
During the time that his mother was sick, he was already doing Oxy fairly often, but when she finally died, he inherited the house and it got even worse.
And the friend of mine who told me that story died just a year later from an OxyContin overdose.
There are countless stories like this in the media lately, and the most pernicious of them are the ones where doctors prescribed patients Oxycodone and that’s where the addiction began.
Why Are Doctors Prescribing Them?
It seems like doctors would understand the drugs were highly addictive, but maybe an adequate pain-killer is hard to find. There has to be some kind of reason why doctors prescribe drugs like that, even when they know the chance of addiction is high.
Some have blamed the drug companies for exaggerating the benefits of the product while minimizing the probability of addiction. However, can the medical practitioners really be that ignorant?
Either way, it seems to be getting worse in every city. Back in 1999, 342 Tennesseans died due to an opioid overdose and in 2009, the number was up to 430.
In 2016, the number shot up to 1,631, an increase of 279% just in the last seven years. And despite the fact these numbers are super high, they don’t even put Tennessee in the number one spot. Tennessee has the second-highest amount of prescriptions for opioids.
According to the newspaper, the Tennessean, for every person who dies from an overdose, there are 14 non-fatal overdoses.
So what’s causing all of this?
A report from the United States Centers For Disease Control and Statistics stated the rise in overdoses corresponds to the rise in prescriptions for the drugs, surprise surprise.
However, if it’s that much of a problem, then why do doctors continue to prescribe them and why do people take them?
It’s a question that no one has answered.
States Are Taking Legal Action
Nevertheless, people are losing patience with the pharmaceutical industry, as six states including Tennessee joined a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the organization responsible for OxyContin.
They’re filing a lawsuit against them because of “aggressive marketing practices” which minimized the effects of the drug and the likelihood of addiction, in addition to exaggerating the benefits of it as a useful painkiller.
The attorney general of Tennessee, Herbert Slatery, said that “three Tennesseans are dying every day” from overdoses related to opioids and they’re finally doing what it takes to address the problem once and for all.
And the state has done a lot more as of late, including the new plan costing $30 million, which will equip police officers with Narcan, a drug for the treatment of overdoses.
They’re also providing funds for addiction treatment for people who can’t get the treatment, including those without health insurance.
It’s Not A Good Time For Partisan Politics
However, the government program has been criticized for inefficiency because the state has around 82,000 people who are already addicted to the drug, and their program will only treat 6,000 people.
Publications like the New York Times have used the opportunity to criticize the Republican establishment, claiming that it’s typical of them to administer a program long after it’s needed.
It’s Even Affecting The Job Market
The crisis has even affected employers who need workers for their businesses. According to a report from CNN Money, the US unemployment is at its lowest in seventeen years, 4.1% and there are 6 million job openings in the country.
But the opioid epidemic has made many young people unable to hold a job because of their addiction. Not only did drugs kill 64,000 people back in 2016, but the sheer number of people addicted has made them incapable of working.
Last year, Alan Krueger, an economist at Princeton University, said we’re seeing the rise of addiction to opioids simply because doctors are prescribing it more.
Krueger echoed the point made by the United States Center For Disease Control and Statistics. He said the increase of prescriptions accounts for between 20% and 25% of the five-point drop in people in the labor force occurring between 1999 and 2015.
A Uniquely North American Problem
Other countries around the world have had severe recessions like the United States, but haven’t experienced the same epidemic of opioid-related deaths like the United States. So Krueger thinks it’s a “uniquely American problem.”
It seems like the opioid crisis will continue to get worse until something is done about it, whatever we choose to do. However, one can only hope that we don’t resort to the methods of the past, including the incarceration of addicts and stricter prison sentences. If we’ve learned anything from the Drug Wars, it’s that prohibition and punishment doesn’t seem to help.