I read an interesting article the other day that cited CDC documenting that in the year 1999 there were 2 times as many motor vehicle fatalities than drug related deaths. Now, that number has reversed itself. As of 2016, there are twice the number of drug fatalities than deaths directly attributed to motor vehicle accidents. Specifically, a whopping 48,000 deaths in the United States directly due to drug abuse.
While it should be noted that motor vehicle deaths have dropped do to safer cars, the numbers are staggering. I am not sure why I find this so disturbing. Certainly it is not because I have had any direct experience with either tragedy, because I have not. This is, indeed, something I am extremely grateful for. But perhaps it is the sheer number of drug related deaths we now accept as the norm. How did this happen? How did we get to this point in our country?
This cannot have happened overnight. After reading more about the growing epidemic, I discovered this disturbing fact: Opioid prescriptions have TRIPLED over the past 20 years! Tripled. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has disclosed in a report released in 2011 that over 219 Million prescriptions for painkillers. This number was 76 million in 1991, before Mexican heroin production flooded our black markets, starting in 2005. It is estimated that between 2005 and 2009, the import of cheap heroin from Mexico increased six-fold. Many of the clients I see attribute ease of access to opiates as a direct contributing factor to their addiction.
So, not only do we have an apparent epidemic of painkillers being prescribed by medical physicians, but we have the illegal sale and distribution of street opiates, including heroin. It should also be noted that this increase of drug dependency, and resulting drug related fatalities, crosses all social-economic barriers. Basically, opiates are equal-opportunity drugs. The CDC reports that there were 19,000 opioid related deaths (most prescription based) and 11,000 heroin related deaths in the country last year. Those numbers are shocking, and should be making headline news across the nation. Why are they not? What are we doing as a nation to stop the epidemic? Where is the help?
I believe that opiate abuse, particularly opiates such as prescription Vicodin and OxyCodone, are considered by many as “acceptable” drugs. Perhaps having a prescription for these powerful painkillers somehow makes them allowable? It certainly seems to have made them grossly accessible for all, young and old. And the fact they are so easy to get a prescription for, and the number of prescriptions that are infinitely refilled flooding medicine cabinets across the nation, contributes to abuse. As I write this, I am convicted that our doctors, medical facilities and government need to partner better moving forward. The illicit street value of heroin, and Vicodin, will never decrease.
It seems to be imploding on itself, looking at the recent data. Supposing we had tighter regulation on prescriptions for pain relief? Or better safety nets for those who find themselves with an addiction they never anticipated? Let’s face it, not a single life lost to these drugs sought this end. Not a single addict sought addiction and chose a drug to achieve it. Addiction has claimed lives, families and futures across this great country in numbers that should be keeping us awake at night. Where do we go from here?