AMERICAN OPIOIDS EPIDEMIC
The last few years have produced an array of legal cases that finally bring pressure to bear on the pharmaceutical industry for its role in the opioid epidemic. From lawsuits brought against pharmaceutical manufacturers to litigation with distributors, every aspect of the pharma network has come under scrutiny. Recently, several pharmacy chains were examined for their role in dispensing overwhelming numbers of addictive opioid painkillers into the public’s hands.
There is no mistaking that the massive push to manufacture, distribute, and prescribe opioid pain relievers in the late-1990s and early-2000s was a huge mistake. It’s known that opioid pharmaceuticals have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans. But what about the more sinister, under-reported harmful effects of the prescription opioid epidemic, like the surge in heroin addiction?
While opioid prescribing has declined slightly in recent years, Americans still receive far too many of these drugs—and way too easily.
For the first time in three decades, the United States experienced a dip in drug overdose deaths. It was short-lived, though, as preliminary data from the CDC now indicates that overdoses are back on the rise. What will it take to halt a growing health crisis that has plagued Americans for one-third of a century?
With the onset of the New Year and the new decade ahead , I decided to do some light reading of health-related reports for the last twenty years, as well as projections for the coming decade. I happened across a report from Brookings. Its opening statement was pretty grim.
The United States is undoubtedly one of the most powerful, wealthiest, and most advanced countries in the world. And while we should always anticipate some shortcomings in even the greatest of nations, it comes as a surprise that the United States takes fifth place in the entire world for drug overdose deaths. The U.S. is ahead of almost all other developed nations for drug overdoses. The U.S. also loses more people per capita to drug overdoses than most third-world countries. How could this be?
When seeking to address the 21st-century addiction epidemic, one of the first lessons to learn is that this is not a new problem.
For decades, drug addiction has been a problem in the United States. We continuously see the daily headlines of terror and trauma relating to addiction. We are inclined to think that this is a new problem. In actual fact, this is not a new problem at all. There is just more of the problem.
The issue with opioid pain relievers has the appearance of one of those unsolvable paradoxes. If we reduce access to opioid pharmaceuticals considerably, patients who experience chronic and severe pain issues might not be able to access pain relief. But in that same token, if we continue to accept opioid pharmaceuticals as standard medical practice and utilize them to the degree that we are, millions of Americans will become addicted to them, and thousands will die from overdoses on them. That is the brutal truth of the matter.
For some time now we have known that our nation’s drug crisis will not resolve with only government action alone. It’s become apparent, now twenty years into the largest addiction epidemic that our country has likely ever seen, that curbing drug addiction within our communities will take community action, as well as federal and state support.