America is indeed in the grip of an unprecedented opioid crisis, with a lot of blame to go around, but not everybody is at risk and there is hope.
A couple of days ago, I wrote a post with questions and comments that occurred to me after watching HBO’s Warning: This Drug May Kill You, a documentary about the opioid addiction problem America is facing. Today, I received an email from Neo-neocon directing me to a just-published, superb Sally Satel article about the opioid crisis in America. Briefly, here are my questions and the answers drawn from Satel’s article. I urge you to read the whole article, though.
My first question: Is this really an “unprecedented” crisis, given all the other unprecedented drug crises I’ve been through in my lifetime? Satel’s answer is that yes, it is:
An estimated 2.5 million Americans abuse or are addicted to opioids — a class of highly addictive drugs that includes Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin, and heroin. Most experts believe this is an undercount, and all agree that the casualty rate is unprecedented. At peak years in an earlier heroin epidemic, from 1973 to 1975, there were 1.5 fatalities per 100,000 Americans. In 2015, the rate was 10.4 per 100,000. In West Virginia, ground zero of the crisis, it was over 36 per 100,000. In raw numbers, more than 33,000 individuals died in 2015 — nearly equal to the number of deaths from car crashes and double the number of gun homicides. Meanwhile, the opioid-related fatalities continue to mount, having quadrupled since 1999.
Honestly, I had no idea. That’s just devastating. I’m so used to discounting media hysteria, and trying to factor in the multiplication effect of the fact that everyone now photographs and videotapes scenes that were long hidden from view, that I wasn’t ready to accept HBO’s unsubstantiated conclusion that the opioid crisis is “unprecedented.” That’ll teach me….
My second question: Who’s to blame? The documentary wanted to blame the pharmaceutical companies; the suffering families want to blame the doctors. Satel’s answer is that it’s complicated, with blame to go around, including the bad effects of good intentions: [Read more…]