by Rich Tutak
When the President of the United States addresses an issue in a joint session of Congress, it is a problem that needs to be taken seriously. In 2015 over 33,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses, a number that unfortunately has been growing since 2000. This epidemic has impacted every type of community from the major cities to small rural towns across America. People who become addicted to opioids come from all walks of life and typically become addicted after being overly prescribed to prescription painkillers. This Economist article helps address this epidemic when first started in the early 1990s when the prescriptions drug dosage increased substantially. Once the habit becomes too hard to sustain from purchasing perceptions drugs people turn to the cheaper alternative of heroin. Within the article, there is a chart that shows the tremendous spike in heroin use from 2010 to today. Along with that states have begun to implement measures to help combat overprescribing with drug-monitoring programs, but more can still be done. If someone is overdosing, and a first responder administers a drug reversing the overdose there needs to be more done. To prevent the person from overdosing again, there need to be programs in place to help administer treatment to these patients in need of addiction treatment.
I remember over a year ago when New Hampshire was making headlines because of their unique opiate overdose death rate (and other opiate related deaths). New Hampshire was/is not the only state where this happens, but they were the state who put the issue on the map (as far as politics go). I remember watching the town-halls, rallies, and news-interviews relating to this issue and they all had one thing in common: Trump. I was astonished because there were so many people running for President of the United States and for some reason no one was addressing the issue, meanwhile, I kept seeing a barrage of town-halls, rallies, and news-interviews where Trump (a Presidential candidate at the time) was addressing the issue. The media was shocked when Trump won his first state in the primaries (New Hampshire), but I was sitting there thinking, he was technically the only one addressing the issue in this state so I was not surprised.
The main reason I’m mentioning all of this is because it shows how significant of an issue opiate overdoses (and opiate use in general) are to our country as a whole. If it could lead to a presidential candidate baffling the media and the world because he won a state (his first state) in the primaries with no prior experience, then maybe the issues he spoke of should be taken more seriously then they have been. I’m not sure how this situation could be resolved, but obviously the drugs are being created and transported here somehow. The opiates are causing families to be torn apart, destroying people’s lives while they are still alive, and are leading to death in many situations. The fact that these opiates are so wide spread and so easy to access seems to indicate that they are being allowed to be distributed and sold (my assumption here is that some people are allowing this to happen under their watch or else the drug dealers would not have the foothold they currently have).
Some places, like the Philippines (who semi-recently elected a new leader) have been applying the death penalty by firing squad to those who are involved in the distribution of opiates and even offering reward money for those who turn people in. I personally think that this is a fantastic idea. It terrifies the drug dealers and causes their friends to turn on them for reward money, in the long run, it has prevented many people from ruining their lives because of opiate access. Despite what I believe, America probably would not use the firing squad on those involved with the distribution of opiate drugs (although it would save our country a lot of money, instead of sending people to prison). I am interested to see how our government will change their stance on combating those involved with the sale, distribution, and use of opiates.
Thanks for sharing this, Rich. The charts are especially eye-opening. I am particularly interested in the tipping-points for the heroin and fentanyl death numbers: they each appear to have hit a point where they quite suddenly began exponential growth (but I am having a difficult time reading the time scale on the chart, so I cannot speculate on the years when the growth began).
I wonder if additional variables can be added to the opioid overdose chart so that data analytics can be applied to find out what the areas with the lowest death rates might have in common (e.g., South Dakota and Nebraska, and large areas of other states). Is it just coincidental, caused by low populations, by addressing the distribution and sale, as Phil mentions, or are these areas innovating in areas such as addiction rehabilitation services?
While the efforts already in place to prevent deaths (e.g. naloxone administration), should be continued and further augmented to counteract overdoses, I believe that rehabilitation programs must exist to improve those saved lives. An addict saved from the brink of overdose remains an addict: without services to address the physical and psychological components of addiction and programs to rebuild relationships and employability, former addicts will be unlikely to break their cycles of addiction. I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of either health care plan, but it appears that the American Health Care Act would add increased flexibility to state coverage decisions, allowing them to potentially remove addiction and mental health services so crucial to responding to the opioid crisis.
First – great article! It gave solid information without staying on any point too long, and so in a few paragraphs it lays down the issue and how we came to this point.
To piggy back off of Phil’s comment, http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2016/12/the_trump_heroin_connection_is_still_unclear.html, is just one of the articles starting to piece together the correlation between Trump voters and perceived heroin use. Causation may vary between the two, but one thought was that the economy plays a piece in both.
To continue off of Kim’s comment, yes, Kasich often talked about how he utilized his state’s medicaid expansion to combat various state ills that was the hot topic. He most often relayed those numbers towards addiction centers and mental health options, and touted reduction in these issues because he wisely used the ACA. This could be another realm of initial Trump supporter who is ultimately going to lose opportunity with the new health care proposal, bringing yet another conversation to the question of “what will Trump do”, this one asking if he will support the AHCA, find a different way to create addiction interventions (maybe he feels that the wall will stop all narcotics?), or simply leave this campaign promise to another time to address.
This topic interests me, because it was recently an ongoing issue in the town I grew up with. Many lives were lost due to heroine overdoses all from the same dealer, but there were other people who survived and needed critical treatment. I think that rehabilitation centers have to be implemented to save the lives of those addicts who survived. Being an addict is a disease and regardless of how the person got involved with the drug, there needs to be a source of help present. If they want and need rehab but there is no where for them to obtain this help, they are never going to get better and may potentially die. An addict saved from an overdose will still be an addict… without help they are not going to break their addiction.