Opioid overdose deaths are on the rise, and Americans are awaiting action from the government to address the worsening opioid epidemic.
The Centers for Disease Control announced on March 6 that emergency department visits for suspected opioid overdose increased 30 percent between July 2016 and September 2017. According to the CDC, the largest increase occurred in the Midwest, where suspected opioid overdoses increased by 70 percent. Opioid overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl and Tramadol doubled between 2015 and 2016, and heroin overdose deaths increased by 19 percent between 2014 and 2016, which saw 64,000 opioid overdose deaths in the U.S., according to opioid crisis statistics.
The increase from 2016 to 2017 isn’t surprising, given the steady increases in previous years. But it’s alarming, nonetheless, and it’s an important indication that more needs to be done to fight the opioid epidemic.
The Latest From the Feds
This week, the president finally unveiled plan to combat the opioid epidemic. The plan mainly calls for stiffer penalties–including the death penalty–for high-intensity drug traffickers, along with prevention and education through a large-scale advertising campaign and improving the ability of the federal government to fund treatment.
While some are relieved to see that the White House is finally taking steps to address the opioid crisis, others believe the current plan is simply not enough. Experts worry that this administration will try to punish its way out of the epidemic, which is unlikely to work. Research conducted since the 1980s shows that stiffer penalties for drug dealers does very little to reduce drug use or the availability of drugs, although it does tend to reduce the price of illegal drugs, making them more affordable to those seeking them.
Legal experts also say that authorizing capital punishment for drug dealers would be unconstitutional, pointing out that the Supreme Court has a history of striking down laws that allow capital punishment in cases that don’t involve murder.
Another reason why the death penalty for dealers is unlikely to make a difference in the opioid epidemic is that it’s largely the pharmaceutical companies and over-prescribing doctors that are contributing to a high percentage of opioid overdose deaths, not illegal drug dealers. For example, NPR reports that between 2008 and 2015, more than 20.8 million prescription oxycodone and hydrocodone pills were sent to just two pharmacies in Williamson, W.Va., a small town of 3,000 residents. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which investigated, noted that “the volume appears to be far in excess” of the number of painkillers a pharmacy in that area would be expected to need.
It was also revealed that in 2008, pharmaceutical company Miami-Luken sent the nearby town of Kermit enough pills to provide every man, woman, and child in the town with 5,624 pills each. It should come as no surprise, then, that West Virginia has experienced one of the largest increases in opioid overdose deaths, according to a report by the National Rural Health Association. In response to the federal government’s lack of action regarding the pharmaceutical industry’s role in the crisis, more than 100 state, county, and city governments have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for unlawful and aggressive marketing, failing to report or investigate suspicious opioid orders, and neglecting to control the overuse and abuse of these drugs, among other charges.
In addition to the death penalty for individuals who deal drugs, President Trump’s “law and order” approach to the opioid epidemic includes building the border wall to keep the drugs out. This plan also points to a lack of the administration’s understanding of where most illegal drugs come from. According to opioid crisis statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 81 percent of the nearly 270,000 pounds of hard drugs caught at the U.S.-Mexico border between 2012 and 2015 were found by Customs at legal ports of entry rather than in the desert and wilderness between ports that the wall is meant to protect.
What Will it Take to End the Opioid Crisis?
The president’s opioid commission stressed that improving access to treatment is the number-one essential strategy for curbing the opioid crisis. But the administration has not encouraged the 18 states that didn’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to do so, even though this would make treatment available to millions more Americans, according to Kaiser Family Foundation. And in fact, deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid across the board are expected later this year as Congress looks for ways to pay for its large tax cut. These cuts will dramatically reduce access to treatment for millions more who need it.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who served on the president’s opioid commission, told the Washington Times that ending the opioid crisis will require Americans to take to the streets to demand action from the government, which is what ultimately led to government action on the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
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The bottom line is that opioid overdose deaths will continue to increase until real, meaningful, and research-based action is taken to curb the opioid epidemic. According to the opioid commission, this will require far greater access to treatment, better monitoring of pharmaceutical companies and physicians, and taking steps to reduce the stigma of addiction so that more people will be willing to get help.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.