Opioid addiction affects all kinds of people from all walks of life. Anyone can get hooked on opioids, regardless of their age, background, location, demographic, income level, etc. And sure enough, millions of people from all spectrums of life are hooked on opiates. The majority of them are middle-class, middle-income, workaday Americans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the demographics harmed most by the opioid epidemic have been middle-class Americans, women, and people with private health insurance. For example, while opioid abuse statistics soared by two-hundred and fifty percent since the turn of the century for men, those statistics absolutely skyrocketed by over four-hundred percent for white, middle-income women.
According to the CDC, more than two-hundred and fifty million prescriptions are written for opioid painkillers every year. A good percentage of that is divvied out to the middle class. Middle-class Americans are more likely to go to doctors for pain problems than lower-class individuals are. Middle-class Americans are more likely to be exposed to pharmaceutical opioids by first obtaining a legitimate prescription for them.
From 1999 to 2014, the middle class demographic has seen a death rate increase of an additional one-hundred and thirty-four deaths occurring for every one-hundred thousand people. All in all, more than five-hundred thousand people lost their lives to opioids in that fifteen-year period, most of them being middle-class Americans.
Most of these deaths came from Americans who sought help for a legitimate pain problem and who were put on a powerful prescription pain drug to cope with that problem. Most Americans had no idea what they were getting into when they began taking such drugs, only that they had pain and that they wanted a solution for it.
There are other factors that experts believe have contributed to opioid addiction and overdose deaths amongst the middle class. One, prevalent factor is the socioeconomic changes this group has faced in the last twenty years.
Income levels for middle-class Americans fell by nineteen percent between 1999 and 2013. Job security and comfortable, salary-based positions are not as common for middle-class Americans who only have a high school diploma. Even though the average GDP per capita increased by sixteen percent between 1999 and 2013, the middle class lost a lot of income in the process.
Some authorities on the subject extrapolate that a combination of economic uncertainty coupled with the medical industry and pharmaceutical giants pushing addictive prescription drugs as “solutions” to physical and mental problems resulted in millions of middle-class Americans being willing to take drugs they probably would have second-guessed in previous years. In face of economic distress, many people would want to escape it all and just forget about it. Prescription drugs, even though they are supposed to be helpful and safe to take, can do just that for a person.
To be effective in addressing the modern-day addiction epidemic, we must set aside old stereotypes that addiction only affects the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, and the uneducated. This is no longer the case.
There are twenty-three million Americans who are hooked on drugs and alcohol, easily half of them falling prey to opioids alone. One of the most rapidly growing demographics in that twenty-three million are Americans who are covered by health insurance and who can actually get prescription drugs from doctors. These are generally middle-class Americans.
Lower class Americans can also get ahold of prescription drugs, but such pills are not pushed on them so heavily as they are in the middle class. The difference is that the middle class are heavily exposed to such drugs simply because they have insurance, they make use of regular doctor’s visits, and they can afford the pills.
The “happy hour” of working class, middle-class America has drifted away from the occasional drink after a long day at work providing for the family. Now, the middle class is steeped in addiction, the poor remain poor, and the rich are getting richer. Substance abuse is more common amongst caucasian, middle-income earners and less common amongst minorities. Poverty is still a factor in causing substance abuse, but not as much as it once was.
As we work to solve this problem, our focus has to be on treating those who are addicted and preventing others from becoming addicted. Americans face constant strife when they are hooked on a substances, legal or otherwise. They cannot overcome it on their own. We need more treatment options for addicted Americans that are effective and affordable.
We need solutions and treatment centers that obtain results. We also need to stop more people from becoming addicted by changing prescribing trends, innovating better approaches to pain management, and educating people about the risks involved with drug use.