The U.S. Opioid Crisis: History, Opinion, and How to Not End Up a Victim

PC: Fair Observer

On October 26, 2017, President Donald Trump declared that the national opioid epidemic that has been plaguing the country for decades is a public health emergency.

President Trump had previously promised to declare the emergency months prior, back in August, which would have likely had a greater impact on how funds would be allocated in order to tackle the epidemic.

The announcements have been met with various responses, some commended the President for taking action against a virulent social stigma, while others criticized his belated announcements as a sign of apathy towards the epidemic, negatively comparing it to the “Just Say No” campaign led by First Lady Nancy Reagan in the 1980’s.

The Opioid Crisis is the worst drug epidemic in United States history, responsible for killing approximately 60,000 deaths alone in 2016, and the overuse of synthetic opioids continue to lead in death tolls for people under 50 years of age.

Everybody, from office workers to doctors, and from teenagers to middle-agers are affected by the crisis. Not even babies are safe, as many babies are born with opioid dependency, due to the mother taking opioids during pregnancy.

The opioids responsible for the crisis are mostly attributed to over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs such as aspirin, hospital sedatives such as morphine, and of course the numerous illegal substances like heroin that run rampant in many urban communities.

Another drug known as fentanyl is accused of contributing to the deaths in the epidemic. Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid that is traditionally used as an anesthetic to relieve pain, mostly through slow-releasing patches. However, it is also extremely dangerous- as little as three milligrams is enough to kill a fully grown man.

I do believe that the crisis is an unfortunate and horrifying event. Even thinking about it I am still baffled at how much death and societal damage the crisis has inflicted on the country.

This reminds me of a book I read a while ago called “A Scanner Darkly” by Philip K. Dick, which is the tale of a drug addict living in a police state that is in the midst of a perpetual “war on drugs” that utilizes surveillance and other forms of invading privacy all to stop people from doing drugs. If the opioid crisis persists for long enough, a reality not dissimilar to that of Dick’s novel may come to fruition.

And perhaps it is not too late to make things better. An article released by BBC outlined five different ways to fight the crisis, as provided by the Health Strategy Group, an association of the Aspen Institute, as follows:

Stop Overprescribing: Pharmaceutical opioids are easily prescribed, filled out, and covered by insurance. Because of this, they are prone to overprescription, and cause more deaths. The clinical guidelines of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention have been updated to reduce opioid prescription, so we can only hope that there will be fewer deaths.

Provide Access to Treatment: According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2017, only a quarter of with health problems related to opioids are actually treated. Insurance to cover costs is often the main cause of the statistics, as most agencies pay for only 60% of the total cost of treatment.

Stop Unnecessary Deaths: A drug known as Naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids on the brain, is in the process of becoming widely available thanks to efforts from associations such as the US Food and Drug Administration. It’s efforts include convincing pharmaceutical companies to sell an over-the-counter version of the drug, as well as persuading over 40 states to pass laws to allow first responder units (fire fighters, paramedics, etc.) to carry the drug with them, and even block opioid users from prosecution if they call for help to deal with their drug problem.

Treat Addiction as a Health Issue: Too often has opioid addiction been considered a problem with society and not with personal health. Drug offenders, including users, are more likely to go to prison than others, and the federal government allows prisons to make their own rules regarding drugs, in which they  “institute more stringent bans than required by federal law”, a study by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development found. Experts in law today are exploring ways in which drug use can be considered a health issue, and not purely a criminal issue, such as enforcing treatment upon sentencing.

Do Your Research: One of the primary causes of the opioid crisis was based on poor understanding on how to treat chronic pain. Research on opioids and their symptoms can not only lead to further understanding on how to deal with the drug, but also help stomp out overprescription and “reverse-launder” drugs onto the black market. The data that can be used to help is often hidden away by pharmaceutical companies and insurers, but that is changing as laws are being passed that allow the use of prescription drug monitoring programs.

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