At the recommendation of the ‘presidential opioid inquiry,’ President Trump has ramped up efforts to stem the rising tide of opioid and heroin overdoses. On Tuesday, he issued a statement that “nobody is safe from this crisis that threatens young, old, rich, poor and urban.”
My brother-in-law died from an opioid overdose just months before I met my wife. I’ve seen firsthand the toll it takes on a family after losing a loved-one, with so much potential, in the prime of their life.
Observing the pain of a grieving mother, a sister and a father is a helpless feeling. Its a pain that never subsides and is resurrected on birthdays and holidays when the loud silence of the departed is unavoidable. Families never truly understand why it happened nor escape the unyielding guilt that remains.
These moments incite a memory, not of a life fulfilled, but of a life cheated by a drug being maliciously peddled for the sake of greed and profit.
In most cases, no one is to blame except everyone: the deceased, friends, society, ‘big-pharma,’ drug-dealers, et al.
Opioid and heroin addictions are a scourge on our nation that is shaking our foundation to the core. In fact, it’s likely the biggest public health-crisis of modern history.
The stories behind addiction are eerily similar. For some, it’s the result of prescription painkillers over-prescribed by doctors and illicitly marketed by greedy (big-pharma) pharmaceutical companies.
We live in a country that judges the quality of medical care, not by healing the underlying problem, but by who (or what) is best at masking our pain. As a result, responsible doctors who refuse to overprescribe opioids are cast aside and harmed economically.
We are addicted to feeling good and we have lost the capacity to use our pain as a catalyst for recovery. Instead, the medical profession, under duress, caves to the demands of its patients and profits to mask our pain without solving our problems. This creates a downward spiral.
Many of these addictions start as a result of peer pressure. Many teens, struggling to gain acceptance and a sense of purpose are lured into the drug culture. In this setting, they find acceptance, a sense of belonging and communion.
As they find social acceptance, they also find addiction. Once they are an addict, every challenging moment in life creates a pressure to continue or return to this lifestyle. Approximately 50 percent of recovering addicts relapse.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), it’s estimated that nearly 60,000 people suffered from a drug overdose in 2016. More than 35,000 individuals perished in 2015 from opioids and heroine.
Given this current trajectory, some estimates suggest that as many as 500,000 people could die in the United States over the next decade from this epidemic. The rate of overdose-deaths has doubled in the past twenty years. The NIH findings show that opioid deaths have quadrupled since 1999.
In a recent University of Virginia study, Dr. Christopher Ruhm found that the numbers being reported by our government are grossly underestimated. The study found that opioid overdose deaths were underestimated by 24 percent and that heroin overdose deaths were underreported by 22 percent in our nation.
Just days after the closure of the ‘presidential opioid inquiry,’ led by Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), this UVA report was released. Even more chilling was the finding that opioid and heroine deaths skyrocketed between 2014 and 2015 by over 20 percent.
We understand why people turn to drugs and become addicted, but the question we must answer is: “who is responsible for the ample supply of drugs?”
In May of this year, the state of Ohio filed a lawsuit against five pharmaceutical companies, alleging that they engaged in misleading marketing campaigns in an apparent effort to mislead doctors about the true risks to patients’ safety and addictive nature of these prescriptions.
But, legislators are complicit as well. Legislation, passed in many states over the last decade, has also resulted in negative, unintended consequences. Most doctors now use state-databases to prevent ‘doctor shopping.’ Addicts frequently leave one doctor for another once their prescriptions are suspended.
In the past, these patients were being given pharmaceutical-grade opioids under the observation of a doctor. Because of the legislation instituting these databases, patients are now forced to buy the pills illegally on the ‘black-market’ or find cheaper alternatives such as heroin. As the underlying addiction worsens, patients deplete their savings and can no longer afford opioid pills that can cost as much as $80 each. As a more affordable but toxic alternative, an equivalent dose of heroin can cost as little as $15.
President Trump is correct in declaring that “nobody is safe” form this crisis. However, if he really wants to create meaningful and positive change he must attack the source of it. The catalyst to many addictions is the result of illegal drug smuggling, overprescription in the medical profession and illicit behavior of pharmaceutical companies.
We must curtail illegal drug smuggling at our border. We’ll need more law enforcement officials to accomplish this goal. Stopping the flow of these drugs legally and illegally can create even greater strides toward progress.
Moreover, we must institute more treatment options, which may include hundreds of new clinics that legally administer drugs to the patient in order to create a weaning-off period.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent creation of an investigative unit to catch doctors who are overprescribing opioids is a good start.
No family deserves the loud silence of their loved ones’ absence because we failed to act swiftly on this crisis.