THE ONE WITH AN OPIOID CRISIS

 

 Left to right - a lethal dose of heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil.  Image: WOSU Public Radio

Left to right - a lethal dose of heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil.

Image: WOSU Public Radio

 

The problem:

An epidemic - Opioids now kill more Americans per year than cars and guns, combine; over 60,000 people a year.

Per the CDC, two-thirds of drug overdoses (66%) involve an opioid. In 2016 opioid deaths were 5x higher than in 1999. From 2000-2016 more than 600,000 Americans died from overdose - that's an average 115 deaths from opioid overdoses, a day.

There is no one cause. A perfect storm created this epidemic.

 

The solution:

Things we can do now:

  • Collectively destigmatize our approach to mental health and chemical dependence.
  • Get Naloxone in the hands of every ER attendee, first responder and regular opioid user.
  • Allow the DEA to do their job in enforcing gross distribution violations by Big-Pharma.
  • Legalize marijuana as an available alternative. It has incredible painkilling properties with no lethal side effects.
  • Pass Single Payer Healthcare (fist SB-562 in CA, then Nationally) as a bridge to Medicare-For-All. This would allow unlimited rehab coverage and comprehensive drug rehabilitation services that patience and doctors can design without fear of losing employment/insurance, having an ongoing 'preexisting condition' or having legal medications too expensive to help.

Things we can do long term:

The Tl;DR version:

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

"In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive."

The above, coupled with a failed drug war focused on deterrence/incarceration and not recovery and rehabilitation... and now, here we are.

The stigma around mental health in general, and especially around drug addiction is entirely up to each one of us to change. If you know someone, or have a loved one battling with any brain chemistry related hardship - listen to their concerns like you would a cancer patient.

When it comes to addiction, it doesn't matter how someone got there. Society is better off to get them out. To oversimplify, we can all do more to remain patient and help people with their coping mechanisms.

Meanwhile, fentanyl is now being disgustingly used to increase street sales due to its 100:1 potency. Dealers on the street spike their product with the lethal fentanyl to increase sales. When customers find out about it's potency, they seek it out. The drug builds a steady tolerance in every user, so they are always pursuing stronger product.

From mental health services and criminal justice reform - we have a lot of ways to attack this as a society - and none of them are partisan. 

THE PERSONAL BIT:

I lost my childhood best-friend to this epidemic, about three years ago. He is survived by his two amazing sons... this one hits home for us, real hard.

The deck was stacked against my friend. His mother and father both struggled with addiction. We knew he had an overwhelming biologically predisposition. We grew up knowing he couldn't dabble recreationaly the way the rest of us might be able to.

But, addiction found him anyway. It was hardest on his immediate family, as it always is. Multiple rehabs, on and off the wagon, court appearances, NA meetings/chips, mentors... then a broken foot on the job as an Iron Worker meant pain pills and a limp...

Ultimately, there was no one thing that lost him for us. Brain chemistry, with opioids in particular, becomes overwhelming; it sinks it's teeth in and becomes the brain's only real day to day motivation.

He died in a crappy hotel surrounded by other users that left the minute they regained consciousness and saw a cold body.

As a society, we are better than this. We don't have to be losing more kids to this than car accidents and guns, combined.

We will no longer stand idly by as big pharma lies to us while overselling hard narcotics.

We will no longer stand idly by as an ineffective drug war fails to do anything more than lock up the disenfranchised.

We have things to do.