Just How Bad Is The Opioid Crisis?
By Kurtis Bright
A Snapshot Of An Epidemic
The U.S. is not at all unique for the numerous drug crises it has suffered over the course of its history, crises both organic and manufactured.
From the blanket outlawing of absinthe at the turn of the last century--the entire case against which was constructed on the flimsy story of one mentally unbalanced man who went on an absinthe bender and subsequently slaughtered his family--to of course Prohibition, to the reefer madness of race-baiting Harry Anslinger’s 1930s reign (which continues to destroy lives to this day) to the separate and unequal crack and powder cocaine laws of the 1980s and 1990s that resulted in such different outcomes for their respective users, Americans are no strangers to drug-related problems stemming from legislative overreach.
And that’s why it's so important to be very clear just how bad the current opioid epidemic really is: this is no mythological epidemic secretly designed to persecute minorities, nor is it yet another shabbily-constructed excuse to impose religion-based temperance on the masses. The opioid crisis in the US is a very real phenomenon, and it is affecting people of all races and socio-economic status.
The current crisis of opioid addiction has been called the worst drug epidemic in American history, which, while it sounds hyperbolic, could well prove to be true. Death rates from opioids are approaching deaths from AIDS during the 1990s, climbing to nearly 30,000 per year. Opioid addiction has affected people from all walks of life, across all regions of the U.S. It has destroyed homes, destroyed families and destroyed millions of lives--and it is perfectly legal.
Not only that, there are a handful of companies making a fortune from all this misery.
This is a new drug war, one that is being waged against the American people, rendering them helpless, addicted, penniless and likely to be devoured by the justice system. Here are a few more alarming facts:
· Opioids kill more people than cars - Way back in 1999--you know, an ancient, far-off time of 18 years ago--the U.S. suffered more than twice as many motor vehicle deaths as fatal drug overdoses. Fast-forward to 2014 and those numbers have been inverted. Now there are nearly 40 percent more deaths from opioid drug overdoses than result from car crashes. The stark, sad statistics: 29,230 people died in car crashes in the U.S., whereas 47,055 died of drug overdoses.
· We are dying from our prescriptions - Cocaine and heroin combined killed about 5,700 Americans in 1999, whereas opioids killed 4,030. In 2014 the rate of opioid deaths had skyrocketed 369 percent, while cocaine-related deaths have fallen below even those caused by benzodiazapines, a common sleep aid and anti-anxiety medication.
· Doctors are writing triple the opioid prescriptions - A factor we cannot ignore in the surge in opioid abuse is the fact that prescriptions written for opioids have tripled over the course of 20 years. Is there really that much more pain out there that needs to be managed? Or is it perhaps that the marketing sections of pharmaceutical companies have done a spectacular job cajoling doctors and convincing the rest of us that opioids are safe, a claim that is demonstrably false? Doctors wrote about 76 million prescriptions for opioids in 1991. By 2011 that number surged to 219 million.
· Addiction to opioid prescription drugs crosses all racial barriers - Predictably, the media spotlight on increased opioid abuse and its attendant problems is laser-focused on white, middle-class users. However, the rate of abuse has also skyrocketed among African-Americans and Latinos, which goes hand-in-hand with an uptick in heroin abuse among all racial groups as cheap Mexican heroin has flooded the U.S. since about 2005, and presents a more affordable alternative to pill addicts when their prescriptions or money dries up.
The opioid scourge should finally put to bed a couple of tired old stereotypes: one, that the problems of drug abuse and drug addiction are strictly about illicitly manufactured drugs. And the second is the notion that drug addiction only happens to “those people,” meaning black, brown, poor and otherwise marginalized people.
Consider this: there are now 12 states where there are more prescriptions for opioid drugs than there are people. Those aren’t all going to criminals and cartoon street-rat degenerates.
The stark truth is that billion-dollar drug companies are killing us, and smiling all the way to the bank in the process. Given the popularity of the Netflix show “Narcos,” following the life and death of Pablo Escobar, it would behoove us to take a step back and consider who the real drug lords are today.