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                                    Junious Ricardo Stanton

                                   Impact of The Opioid Crisis


“Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.”


As the US grapples with an escalating opioid epidemic that is ravaging this nation, it is important we examine how this happened and why it is such a huge problem. The opioid crisis is totally out of control partly due to overzealous physicians prescribing addictive pain killers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl coupled with illicit street drugs like heroin and cocaine. It has been documented that US physicians received kickbacks in the form of payments, speaking fees, food and drink from pharmaceutical reps and companies to write prescriptions for their products.

 A study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed

US doctors were on the take, big time.  “Objective: To identify payments that involved opioid products from the pharmaceutical industry to physicians. Methods. We used the Open Payments program database from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to identify payments involving an opioid to physicians between August 2013 and December 2015. We used medians, interquartile ranges, and ranges as a result of heavily skewed distributions to examine payments according to opioid product, abuse-deterrent formulation, nature of payment, state, and physician specialty. Results. During the study, 375 266 nonresearch opioid-related payments were made to 68 177 physicians, totaling $46 158 388. The top 1% of physicians received 82.5% of total payments in dollars. Abuse-deterrent formulations constituted 20.3% of total payments, and buprenorphine marketed for addiction treatment constituted 9.9%. Most payments were for speaking fees or honoraria (63.2% of all dollars), whereas food and beverage payments were the most frequent (93.9% of all payments). Physicians specializing in anesthesiology received the most in total annual payments (median = $50; interquartile range = $16–$151).”  

People are hooked because their doctors got paid to prescribe addictive medications and painkillers. Once the patients became addicted they sought other means to maintain their high or pain free status.  The opioid menace has reached crisis proportions in the white communities and this has spurred a totally new approach to addiction and treatment.

When the US CIA with their organized crime business associates were dumping heroin, cocaine and other illicit drugs in the ghettos and barrios of America, the official response was to craft public policy that used this situation to create a bogus War on Drugs that targeted, arrested and convicted users and small time pushers while ignoring the major traffickers. The major players were pumping tons of drugs on the streets and billions into the major banks to launder the money and fuel off book secret operations (think the Iran Contra scandal) so they received a pass because they were part of the plan.

Drug trafficking is big business!   “The most frequently found figures in the literature range from $300 billion to $500 billion a year and seem to be the most reasonable estimates. One UNDCP estimate for 1995 reflecting global illicit drug sales to consumers, gives a figure close to $400 billion. A similar turnover was also estimated by the International Criminal Police Organization/ Interpol. Such a turnover of the illicit drug industry would be equivalent to approximately 8 per cent of total international trade. It would be larger than the international trade in iron and steel and motor vehicles (2.8 per cent and 5.3 per cent respectively) and approximately the same size as the international trade in textiles (7.5 per cent), oil and gas (8.6 per cent) and world tourism.”

 Drug trafficking became a big business as did the prison industrial complex by incarcerating Black and Brown people, but that’s another topic for another day. Now that opioid deaths and addiction is a white thing and skyrocketing nationwide addiction is threatening major economic and public health disruption, the politicians are singing a new tune. Now it’s not viewed as an indication of moral depravity like when Black folks were caught in the addiction cycle. Now it’s a public health issue/crisis because white folks are dying from overdoses.

“Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015. From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel. The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate; sales of prescription pain relievers in 2010 were four times those in 1999; and the substance use disorder treatment admission rate in 2009 was six times the 1999 rate.  In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills. Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers. 94% of respondents in a 2014 survey of people in treatment for opioid addiction said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were ‘far more expensive and harder to obtain.’” Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures

Drug addiction is taking a massive toll on American life and there seems to be no end in sight as the addicts are younger and younger. “In 2015, an estimated 21,000 adolescents had used heroin in the past year, and an estimated 5,000 were current heroin users. Additionally, an estimated 6,000 adolescents had heroin a heroin use disorder in 2014. People often share their unused pain relievers, unaware of the dangers of nonmedical opioid use. Most adolescents who misuse prescription pain relievers are given them for free by a friend or relative. The prescribing rates for prescription opioids among adolescents and young adults nearly doubled from 1994 to 2007.” Ibid

What must of us overlook is the fact Western culture fosters addiction to a myriad of substances: caffeine, sugar, alcohol, sex and drugs. To resolve this crisis will require a major transformation of values and lifestyle. It will be difficult to take the profit motive out of drug trafficking and prescription pushing, so better education about our divine nature/potential, resilience and resourcefulness is needed. It will not be enough to just say no or take a pill to make things better.



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