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THE OPIOID CRISIS: OPINIONS
In terms of American public health disasters, the opioid crisis is about as bad as they’ve ever been. It can be hard to wrap your head around exactly how bad it is. The numbers are so jarringly big that they’re difficult to conceptualize.
In 2017 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded over fifty thousand opioid-related fatalities in America. As President Trump claimed in a recent rally, this figure is comparable to the wartime fatalities sustained during the entire Vietnam war.
Without a doubt, that kind of mortality constitutes a crisis. Perhaps the most insidious quality of this crisis is that seemingly no one is safe. Many of the victims come from middle-class backgrounds that are largely insulated from other hard drugs. Even the wealthy and famous aren’t immune—legendary musician Michael Jackson died from a fentanyl overdose, among others.
So what’s being done to combat this grievous emergency? Well, unfortunately, there’s only so much that can be done with our current resources. Even after thousands of years, our understanding of addiction is primitive. And the potency of modern medicine just makes the problem worse every year. The best we can do for the moment is study the phenomenon in greater detail.
The roots of the opioid crisis are fairly well-mapped and stretch back to the late 90’s. According to research done by the CDC, it was caused by three “waves” that all contributed to the current crisis:
Around the turn of the century, doctors began prescribing opiates for an increased range of conditions at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry.
When prescription opiates became harder to acquire, addicts switched to illegally-obtained heroin. Heroin is unregulated and far more dangerous than prescription medication.
Fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic opiate. In recent years unscrupulous chemical manufacturers (many of them foreign) have been spreading fentanyl throughout the black market.
The egregious narcotics problem we now face is primarily a result of these three economically-driven waves. Clearly, the solutions we have now are insufficient. If we’re going to deal with this health crisis, these three root causes must be dealt with as well.
Now, I know this is going to derail the article, but I think it needs to be said. The opioid crisis is just another symptom of a much bigger problem—the biggest problem of the modern era. It’s another damn 1% problem. It started because huge pharmaceutical companies with untold billions pushed a bunch of opiates into the market. They used money and political lobbying to make prescription opiates more widely available.
Heroin has been around for decades, of course, but has always been a fringe drug. It wasn’t until hundreds of thousands of people were addicted to opiates that heroin made its way into the average household. Additionally, heroin isn’t made in America. It has to be shipped in. Shipping that amount of drugs is not a small operation; someone extremely rich is making it happen.
And finally, fentanyl. Again, domestically-produced fentanyl is very strictly controlled, meaning that the vast majority is coming in from overseas. That’s not a cheap endeavor. Some giant corporate cabal is creating that problem.
With that amount of money moving around there must be some indication of who’s responsible. American intelligence agencies are some of the best in the world. Am I supposed to believe they can’t figure out where these drugs are coming from?
Once again the same old solution rears its head: money is changing hands. Those obscenely-rich people who are supposed to be watching out for our interests are working for themselves. How is a normal person on the ground level supposed to resist the machinations of an international cartel? Of course modern opiates are going to ravage society without some sort of protection in place. If something doesn’t change soon, it’s only going to get worse.
You could arrest every drug dealer in the country. You could start huge nationwide addiction recovery programs. But if the drugs are coming from unimpeachable corporate entities (some of which are domestic), none of that is going to help. Wealth disparity is still ultimately the problem from which stem almost all the others.
Once again I’ve reached the end of an article without any tangible answers. Societal problems like this are notoriously difficult to solve, and have a way of sticking around for decades. But this is a problem we can’t sustain for decades. Something must be done, and fast, or the opioid crisis threatens to spiral even further out of control.
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