Last week news outlets throughout the country were reporting the newest statistical tragedy in America’s Opioid Epidemic; that more people died in 2015 from heroin overdoses than from firearms. In 2015, 13,150 people died from heroin overdoses, while 12,974 were killed in firearm-related incidents. This is the first time this has occurred in our nation’s history.
The death count from heroin overdoses represents a little more than half of all opioid-related deaths, which in 2015 spiked to 33,251 representing an 11% increase from previous years. 20,101 of that 33,251 died from prescription pain medication overdoses, continuing the upward trend we have seen throughout the past decade.
Federal officials and those who are studying the overdose crisis in this country say that the increase in a number of deaths is almost certainly linked to the illicit fentanyl that started making its way onto American streets over the past few years. This drug is extremely potent and many times it is cut with heroin by street level dealers in order to maximum profits and increase the user’s high, but given the strength of the drug it is causing many opioid abusers to overdose.
This past summer in South Florida there was an overdose every 2 hours and many of the country’s first responders are reporting similar finding. Police in many counties throughout the country have said that their job essentially entails driving around and administering Narcan, a life-saving drug that counteracts the effects of an opioid overdose which is available in FL without a prescription. Veteran police are saying they haven’t seen anything like this before and as politicians and other public figureheads continue to try to raise public awareness for this problem, it seems that we may have only scratched the surface of the opioid issue in this country.
2016 was in a sense a watershed moment for drug abuse in the United States, as it saw President Obama meet with rapper Macklemore, a recovered opioid addict, in the West Wing in order to drum up awareness for the growing opioid problem. It saw the passing of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, while still flawed in many ways in regards to actually helping people who suffer from drug addiction, is at least a move in the right direction away from criminalizing drug addiction. 2016 has also seen a greater level of media coverage of opioid addiction and this coverage has been sustained as the months have gone on, not just some time filler editorial pieces.
Yet, it is interesting because as we went through this last election season, drug addiction wasn’t particularly a hot-button issue, at least not in the same way that gun regulation was. Maybe this is unfair to say because it is only the first year that heroin overdoses have outpaced firearm-related deaths, but wouldn’t it stand to reason that this would be something we would want to place on the same level as gun regulation if a similar number of deaths is caused by it? I would think so, especially given the fact that the number of prescription opioid overdoses, a legal and federally regulated substance, far exceeded that of firearm related deaths. It makes you pause for a minute and wonder what exactly is going on here?
Drug addiction is not a simple social problem, though. It doesn’t give simple sound bites that can be replayed for campaign fervor, and so many times it is sort of pushed to the side and ignored. Drug addiction is an ugly thing to witness and many people do not have any sympathy for drug addicts. They see people begging for change at the intersection on their way to work and they believe that that encompasses what a drug addict is and so they do not want to offer any physical or metaphorical quarter for them. And even if they did, drug addicts are not a people that are easy to help. They are prone to manipulation, lying, and the disease of addiction is so powerful and so cunning that it causes a denial that is unrivaled by anything else on this planet. Given all this and adding in the fact that the legal and illicit drug market is so incredibly lucrative and you have a recipe for what we are know seeing, thousands of people dying and even more having their lives ruined.
The better part of the 20th century was spent trying to figure out a way to deal with drug addiction and while we have come quite a ways in our understanding, we are not really any closer to finding a solution to the overall problem. We now have programs that are proven to work in creating the long-term sustained recovery, but not everyone chooses to participate in them, and for some people, they do not seem to be the correct path to sobriety. We now understand to a greater degree the importance of dual diagnosis in the treatment of drug addiction and with this many people who have repeatedly gone back to using drugs in the past, have received the proper medication and therapy, resulting in their abstinence from substances. But we still have a long way to go.
When the number of deaths is tallied for 2016 it will more than likely be higher than 2015s, and what we should do to stop this trend is beyond me. I know on a micro level what I have been able to do to halt to my own addictions, but speaking on a macro level I am at a loss. Hopefully, as opioid addiction garners more media coverage those who have the power to enact real change will do so and as a country, we will begin to look within our communities in an effort to help stamp out the Opioid Epidemic.
Rose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.