How the Opioid Crisis is Destroying the U.S.

While opioid-related deaths have fallen by 5.1 percent from 2017 to 2018, the reality is that dependency is slowly destroying communities across the country.  This scourge has taken hundreds of thousands of lives as drug dependency has now become of the nation’s leading causes of death.

In terms of the economic cost, the federal government estimates that roughly $630 billion was spent between 2015 and 2018 to combat the crisis. This is larger than the GDP of nations including Taiwan and Belgium and it highlights the massive impact the crisis is having on the country.

Granted, attorneys general from several states have banded together to bring class-action lawsuits against drug makers including Johnson & Johnson, Teva, and Purdue Pharma but even the massive settlement offers have done little to correct the damage which has already been done.

While some experts anticipate that the hit to the economy in 2019 will eclipse $200 billion, it doesn’t even begin to take into account the bigger issues including the lives lost due to overdose or even those who found themselves ensnared in the illicit drug trade – the latter which has fueled the country’s swelling prison population.

As such, the crisis has rapidly evolved from a public health issue into a sort of crime wave, at the same time which homicides are at historic lows in communities across the country. The irony is that much of the crisis started due to the malpractice of medical professionals, many of whom habitually overprescribed pain killers instead of dealing with the causes of the pain or discomfort.

While this is not to say that there are facing debilitating pain daily – there are. The opioid epidemic is not due to these people. Instead, the root cause includes doctors who have relied too heavily on addictive drug options for treatment as well as economic uncertainty which has decimated many communities.

The combination of these factors has not only overtaxed the country’s healthcare system but also local law enforcement and emergency services, especially as police and paramedics are usually on the frontlines of dealing with consequences of the opioid crisis.

This includes substance abuse, overdose, and criminal activity. The latter has also spawned the need for legal professionals who specialize in drug trafficking defense. In some ways, this is a shame as we have continued to treat the opioid crisis as a crime wave rather than what it is – an economic and healthcare crisis.

What does this mean for the country? For starters, local communities are seeing the budgets which are earmarked for first responders’ balloon at a time when their tax bases are eroding. This is especially true in rural and post-industrial communities where the economic boom of the past decade has left many behind.

Another impact has been an explosion in the prison population much of which has been funneled into the for-profit prison system. While many of these companies are helping local communities and states to tackle the need to humanely house prisoners it not without potential ethical issues as profitability is directly tied to the number of inmates a facility holds.

Closer to home there is the fact that an increasing number of families across the country have at least one loved one dealing with addiction. The problem has grown so big that it is estimated that only 10 percent of the nation’s roughly 21 million addicts receive the support they need. As such, dealing with addiction often falls on the shoulders of family members, many of whom need to miss time from work, or even stop working at all.

Beyond the homes destroyed and the communities bankrupted by the crisis, there is a broader impact as the crisis draws further scrutiny of the use of prescription pain killers. While a closer look is required, the risk is that those living with debilitating pain will be left behind.

What can be done? For starters, moves to decriminalize opioids, while controversial, can be viewed as a step in the right direction. However, this would do little to address those who have been pulled into addiction. Especially as these people, they will need years of professional care and support.

Besides investments in mental health and addiction prevention, there is also a need to reinvest in the communities most ravaged by the opioid crisis. This includes rural communities and small towns many of which have not benefited from the longest economic expansions in the country’s history.

The opioid crisis is destroying the U.S. and while the number of deaths related to opioid addiction has started to fall, there is still a lot of work left to do.

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.