As a country we have seen a long period of growth and prosperity. The advances we have made in both technology and medicine have helped not only increase longevity of life, but also quality. As a result, we saw a decrease in deaths around the United States for many years; but as of late, the death toll has been rising dramatically each year. It seems as though we are taking steps backwards instead of forwards. What is the cause of this sudden increase in death frequency? The answer is simpler than it seems: drugs. Opioids have started to tear through the country and are taking lives left and right; but are people taking this threat serious enough?
Addiction is a Disease
The first issue with our society is the fact that addicts are continuously looked at in a bad light. Addiction is “a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences”. The first step in acknowledging that there is a problem is to understand the problem itself. When you hear that someone is struggling with a disease the first thing you want to do is get them the help they need. Addicts need help. It is not a choice to suffer from addiction and it is very difficult to overcome. People become addicted to drugs for many different reasons. There are those that never will; but because there are so many outside factors that influence addiction and dependency, it is important to understand what triggers them.
One of the most influential factors in addiction is genetics. Biological makeup can hold a great deal of influence over someone’s tendency towards addiction and recovery. Genes are passed down from our parents. We see this happen a lot with alcohol dependency. Children who have an alcoholic in their immediate family are 4 to 10 times more likely to become alcoholics than children who do not. The same idea applies to those with family members who have suffered from any type of addiction. It tends to be passed down, and the vulnerability to addiction becomes greater. Withdrawal symptoms and relapse probability can also increase due to genetic factors.
When a person suffers from addiction, so does their health. Those who start early in life can be greatly affected by this. When you think of puberty and growing up, physical growth is the first thing that pops into your head. Growing taller and developing according to your gender are typical facets of growing up. The ones that lies underneath the surface, however, are just as important; if not more so. The development of our brain can affect us the rest of our lives, which is why those who start drinking or doing drugs at a young age, even recreationally, are more likely to develop a dependency later in life. Also the prospect of messing with one’s brain development can be a very scary prospect. Your brain helps in your decision-making, judgment, and self-control.
The age old argument of nature verses nurture. People are starting to realize that it is a bit of both. Environment and our surroundings can influence our decision making. The “Just say no” to drugs campaign is a good example. As easy as that sounds, peer pressure makes it very difficult. I’m sure you have heard your mother say “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” This may seem simple enough but when you have all of your friends doing something and you don’t want to disappoint them it becomes very difficult to say no. Stress can also have a great impact on your tendency to develop a drug dependency. School, economic factors, and quality of life can drive a person to use. Being a part of a generation that almost always needs a college degree to get a good job can be very stressful. Not only trying to keep a good grade point average, but also participating in extracurricular activities to get accepted into college. Once you have been accepted, the stress doesn’t end there. You need to do well in order to get a good job to pay off the debt from college if you didn’t receive a scholarship. It is an endless cycle that could get to anyone.
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The understanding of addiction can aid in acknowledgement that there is a problem. People are suffering from this disease which has led to epidemic proportions throughout the United States. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50. In 2016 alone, at least 59,000 people died from drug overdose; 33,000 of these due to opioid overdose. Deaths rose 19 percent from the previous year. Experts fully expect the problem to only get worse over the next year. With more and more data being compiled, we should find out for sure how many deaths occurred from overdose in 2016. One of the main issues is that opioids are being overprescribed. In 2016 there were more than 236 million prescriptions written for opioids in the United States. That would supply every American adult with one bottle of opioids. The Center for Disease Control recommends that there be a 3 day limit for opioids if it can be helped. This is in order to avoid addiction. A study done by the National Safety Council found out that 99 percent of doctors surveyed were prescribing highly addictive opioids for longer than the recommended 3 days. Prescriptions for opioids have quadrupled since 1999. They are being prescribed at a higher rate than ever. But why are doctors giving them out so lightly? There are those being handed out after surgery, for back pain, dental pain, and for helping patients through cancer treatment. The CDC recommends opioids be handed out for short periods of time, unless they are being prescribed for cancer, palliative and end-of-life care. This is not what is happening around the United States and it is part of a bigger issue. The National Safety Council survey found that 1 in 5 doctors prescribed opioids for 30 day periods on a regular basis. These are drugs that the American Academy of Neurology finds inappropriate. Once doctors have given opioids to patients, they fail to recognize the signs that their patients need help. Only 38 percent of doctors surveyed said that they refer their patients to drug treatment. The doctors need to learn to recognize the signs of addiction and treat them if they are going to supply unnecessary opioids. Doctors need to be asking themselves if the benefits outweigh the risks. The longer you prescribe opioids, the higher the risk of addiction is. We are using far more opioids than necessary. The United States accounts for only 5 percent of the world’s population. We are consuming at least 80 percent of opioids across the globe. The U.N. reported specifically that Americans consume more than 99 percent of the world’s supply of hydrocodone. If other countries are able to live without overprescribing opioids, the United States can make that adjustment as well.
Who is Helping?
While doctors need to adjust the way that they go about treating pain, there are other people who can make just as much of an impact. There are a lot of feelings circulating around the United States right now dealing with politics and how best to help our people. We need to figure out the best approach to curb this opioid epidemic. One important step that has been taken was the creation of a commission. The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis was created to find some answers. Made up of people of different backgrounds and political beliefs, the commission was made to approach a problem that all Americans can agree on: the opioid crisis. The commission itself will not create measures or take action, but provide advice for a logical and effective approach to handle this crisis. They are set to publish their findings by October 1st, 2017. With their help we may be able to come up with a plan of action. While the commission is a step in the right direction, there are many backwards steps being taken. The proposed health care bill would cut Medicare and Medicaid funding dramatically. These are programs that help provide healthcare to millions of Americans. By defunding these programs the government will be denying treatment to Americans struggling with addiction. The new health care bill is said to put up to 24 million Americans without health insurance. This is not the right way to fix our health care system and those who need help the most will not be able to get it.
The Best Approach
So how can we handle something that seems so great and so intimidating? There are several approaches to handling this enormous problem that plagues our country. Several people lean toward harsher punishments and more boarder security, while others want to focus on treatment and preventative measures. What is the right answer? There is none. Maybe the answer is everything. This issue has not been taken seriously enough. A combination effort is the key. The first step should be to cut off the supply. By tightening boarder security we can insure that drugs aren’t crossing our boarders; especially from Mexico and other cartels down south. In addition to boarder security we need to make sure that punishments are being administered correctly and fairly. We need to strike a balance with being merciful and showing leniency to give people second chances. If people have nothing to look forward to in the future and their records are ruined than they will continue to make the same mistakes with nothing left to lose. By saving someone’s record and reputation, you may deter them from committing another crime. The other element includes preventative measures. This starts with education. By educating adults and youth we can see a change. Youth should be learning about the side effects and longevity of issues that result from using drugs, especially opioids which are a large portion of deaths that occur each year for those under the age of 50. Adults may not think they need to learn about addiction and recovery but it is just as important for them as it is for the younger generation. By learning themselves, they can in turn educate their children and recognize signs of substance abuse. Treatment and recovery are the most important steps in combatting drug abuse. Instead of sending someone to jail if the offense was not violent, we should look toward treatment; so that people can re-enter the world and contribute to society. Recovery is a long process and may be a continuous part of your life but it is of the utmost importance that we focus on rehabilitating our community and country.
Time to take it Seriously
As a whole, our country needs to realize just how big the problem is. The issue may seem like it has been addressed, but not enough of an effort is being made. Even if you think you are not in a community plagued with drug abuse, do everything you can to help make the country and your community a better place so that it does not spread further. More and more deaths are occurring each year from something that is very preventable. It is time we take a genuine stand against this epidemic. If your or a loved one is struggling with addiction, don’t hesitate to call us. We are available 24/7 to take your call.