The opioid crisis is not exclusive to the United States. But the US has gained the notoriety for setting the benchmark when it comes to how bad things can get in terms of handling and managing the opioid crisis. While it is possible that there are some improvements, overall, the opioid crisis in the US continues to be a losing battle. In 2018, opioid overdose results in 128 deaths in the US every day. Of the 68,000 drug overdose deaths recorded annually, overdose by opioids account for a staggering 47,000.
Studies and statistics all paint a negative picture of the opioid crisis in America. The only ones holding the line are those involved in activities that bring attention to the opioid crisis and what can be done by citizens to help stave off the advance of this menace, like responsible use of prescription medical bags especially when traveling to protect both the contents of the bag and those who might be tempted to take it, use it without prescription, or even sell it and encourage those struggling with addiction.
Amid the flood of information available to consumers and how information is funneled and sorted by algorithms that streamline your content based on your preferences, there is a very good chance that relevant current information regarding the opioid crisis in the US does not appear on the screen of your mobile phone or personal computer.
Here is a quick overview for you to have a strong grasp of where we are now as a country in terms of dealing with the opioid crisis:
- How bad is the problem of opioid misuse and addiction? $78.5 billion a year. That is according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is the amount lost because of the opioid crisis – lost wages, government spending, etc. And that was in 2018. After more than one year of dealing with COVID-19 and the impact of this pandemic on opioid addiction, the amount of money lost because of the opioid crisis should increase year after year in 2019 and 2020. There is no indication that 2021 could be any different or better.
- Did you know that in Central Florida, the number one cause of death of people under 40 years of age is overdose by opioids? In January, Opioid Project founder sounded the alarm regarding how the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the opioid crisis situation especially in Florida. Use of opioid is on the rise, as well as overdose. Among the African-American population of Central Florida, deaths because of opioid overdose increased by 110% during the quarantine months of March, April, May, and June.
- Central Florida is not the only one dealing with this problem. Mississippi is bracing itself as local government expects opioid use to increase, and with it, overdose and death. The truly alarming part is that while an increase in number is normal and expected considering how bad the government is failing in dealing with the opioid crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the worsening of the situation. Access to healthcare providers has been a challenge because of quarantine and restrictions, and people who can’t get prescription or buy medication resort to buying illegal substances from the streets. The result: cocaine overdose resulting to death increased. The use of methamphetamine increased. Professionals agree that what is happening on a local level mirrors the scale of the crisis on a national level.
- Are we seeing the fourth wave of opioid overdose deaths? There have been three waves of opioid overdose deaths. The first wave happened during the 90s with the increase of prescription opioids and the resulting overdose of users. The second wave was in 2010, characterized by the presence of heroin as a factor in opioid overdose deaths. The most recent was in 2013, this time with the presence of synthetic opioids like fentanyl causing overdose deaths. Considering the alarming shift in trends across the board during the pandemic, COVID-19 could very well be the co-factor in overdose deaths during the fourth wave.
- So far, what we can expect from President Joe Biden regarding his administration’s response to the opioid overdose is the possible expansion of the Affordable Care Act meant to help Americans battling addiction, particularly, having access to healthcare, substance use disorder (SUD) treatment, and mental health services. To do this, we should see significant developments in reforming the criminal justice system, eliminating incarcerations for drug use alone, and using a $125 billion federal investment, among others. When this happens and when Americans can see a real shift remains in question, unless the president himself provides a more definitive timeline with regards to his action plan, some of which have been promised before by national and local leaders with little to zero potency, like holding executives and pharmaceutical companies accountable for their role in the opioid crisis and putting a stop to the practice of overprescribing. The biggest challenge to Joe Biden’s presidency is how he responds to the illicit drug menace the United States remains engulfed in.
- US Vice President Kamala Harris has long acknowledged that the opioid crisis is a national public health emergency. Her history as an elected public servant and her time as candidate for the presidency indicate her interest and resolve in helping put an end to the opioid crisis. It remains to be seen what she will do to the best of the capacity of her office in this regard.
The opioid crisis may not hog the news daily but make no mistake: this is an important battle and there are very powerful stakeholders that can shape the immediate future of this country and the problem of opioid drug overdose. The US has been under several presidencies but there is no significant blow dealt to the opioid crisis and the people behind it, nor is there any real change that could influence the trend to move to a different direction, one that is favorable to the people and the public’s safety and well-being.