Signs of Hope and Despair in the Opioid Epidemic

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shutterstock 1118802302

The United States is gripped in the clutches of the worst drug addiction epidemic that it has ever seen before, a problem that is significantly added to by opioids. Since the turn of the century, drug abuse problems have been on the rise all across the U.S., a striking problem that seems to know no end.

As we approach the two-decade mark of the opioid epidemic, some experts believe that we are on the verge of new, breaking treatments and policy changes that will finally reduce the opioid problem. Conversely, however, there are other experts in this addiction space that fully believe that the opioid epidemic is only just getting started.

Where the Epidemic is Headed

Around election time, the American people had great degrees of hope in the drug and alcohol addiction scene. Both Republican and Democrat delegates were promising treatment-heavy approaches to the addiction epidemic, from the teary-eyed promises of Republican Chris Christie to the staunch plans and promised policies of Democrat Hillary Clinton. Both sides were promising a strong focus on treatment and very light-handed policies on incarceration and jail time. During the election, both sides focused a lot on the heartbreaking rise in prescription drug addiction, overdose deaths, drug trafficking, etc.

Unfortunately, since President Trump has been elected, the Current Administration has taken a very heavy-handed, pro-incarceration and pro-punishment stance on all drug issues, which is not what we thought we were going to get. The approach (since 2016) has largely been one of “Locking them up and throwing away the key,” in the words of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

If we continue to take a strong, pro-incarceration stance in addressing the drug problem, we will end up with more problems being created by that stance than the solutions fostered by it. Currently, the American criminal justice system incarcerates more than two million Americans, which is about seven-hundred people for every one-hundred-thousand residents. This is a greater prevalence of incarceration than any other country has. On a per capita basis, the U.S. leads the world in incarceration. More incarceration is not going to help reduce the drug epidemic.

When we really examine the drug problem and our efforts to address it, the American government has been taking the same or similar stance to it for the last thirty years. In fact, the War on Drugs, which began in 1983, has been the mainstay of our drug policy ever since. This is where the “Just Say No” campaign came from, and where no-tolerance, incarceration-preferred policy began to take hold in how we addressed drug offenders. What we need to realize, however, is that the War on Drugs has been highly ineffective in actually reducing our drug problem. A cursory glance at drug addiction in America today is enough testament to the ineffective policies and campaigns of the War on Drugs.

Some Have Hope

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, drug-induced fatalities are now the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States. Drug overdoses surged ahead of fatal car accidents in 2013, and drug overdose deaths have held the number one spot every year since then.

However, there are some statistics that we can be hopeful about. Also according to the DEA:

The easy availability of illicit drugs in the U.S. has shrunk considerably. According to survey respondents, the statistical availability of illegal opioids has dropped from seventy-five percent in 2015 to fifty-six percent in 2015.

The percentage of high school seniors who abuse prescription drugs has declined from fifteen percent to thirteen percent between 2013 to 2014.

The overall disbursement of addictive, opioid pharmaceuticals has declined slightly. The all-time high for disbursement of opioid drugs by American doctors stood at 17.2 billion doses in 2011. By 2013, that number dropped to 16.2 billion doses. Not a huge change, but a chance nonetheless. Since 2013, the prescribing trends have not changed much.

So there is some hope that we are at least finally starting to recognize just how dangerous this problem has become. However, we are a long way away from really doing something about it.

Looking to the Future

The opioid epidemic is a huge problem, and it will likely not reduce until we manufacture massive solutions to the problem. We need revolutionary change in our prescribing trends, and even better than that, we need a massive change in what types of medicines we use to handle our ailments and pain problems.

As an entire nation, we need to come together and insist on better approaches to pain relief, more thorough remedies that are not addictive, and an increased focus on alternative and natural, holistic methods of pain relief. We can reduce the opioid epidemic, but just as massive change in medical policy and prescribing trends are what brought on the epidemic in the first place, we will also need similar changes that are on similar orders of magnitude to reduce the problem we have thoroughly stuck ourselves in.


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