The US Opioid epidemic: The silent killer of a generation
One of Donald Trump’s signature promises during his campaign was to tackle the scourge of opiate addiction which is devastating middle America to epidemic proportions. Donald Trump has been one of the very first leaders to discuss tackling this problem openly in recent times, but this problem is not one that has just materialized overnight, this is a problem that has been growing for some time in some of America’s more rural enclaves.
Unlike the crack epidemic of the 1980’s which so devastated portions of the black community and the inner cities so suddenly. The opioid epidemic is one that has affected rural communities, small towns and former industrial towns over a period of the last couple of decades. Whereas the crack epidemic of the 1980’s mainly affected poor communities in the inner cities, the opioid epidemic has affected the poor to the middle classes in equal measure. The crack epidemic centred around the coastal cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C and Baltimore whereas the opioid epidemic has ravaged middle America, or to use the more offensive term reserved for Democrats and elitists alike: Flyover country.
This epidemic has metastasised over the years, but its origins can be traced back to the late 1990’s. Doctors began to prescribe ever larger numbers of opioid based painkillers such as Oxycodone, commonly known as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. It has been reported that in the 1990’s more than 100 million Americans claimed to be suffering from “chronic pain.” This led to pharmaceutical companies, along with federal government backing pushing doctors to prescribe these opiate based painkillers more commonly. The prescription of these drugs for the treatment of pain left many people with the affliction of opioid addiction after their use was discontinued by a doctor.
It was also discovered by some that if you crushed the tablets down and smoked, snorted or sniffed them, the slow release of the opiate was bypassed resulting in a high for the user not dissimilar to that of shooting up a bag of heroin. Middle class kids who were weary of going into the drug dealing hotspots of neighbouring towns and cities began to discover they could achieve the same high by just raiding their mother or fathers medicine cabinets. It has been found that the prescription of opiate based painkillers rose 200 percent over the two decades between 1991-2011. In 1991, 76 million prescriptions were written for painkillers, whereas in 2011 this figure had reached 219 million. In 2016, the number of prescriptions had risen to 289 million.
Widespread abuses by doctors began to take place during the mid-2000’s. A number of “pill mills” began to tout business from desperate addicts. A pill mill is a clinic which dispenses these drugs to patients without any medical requirement. The tackling of legal aspect of the opioid epidemic was also hindered by the Obama administration. Back in 2016, President Obama signed into law The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act. This made it increasingly difficult for DEA agents to seize shipments of opioid based painkillers unless they could prove an “imminent danger to the public health and safety” The combination of these factors is thought to have greatly contributed to the elements needed to allow the opioid crisis to reach such epidemic proportions.
As is always the way with the drug business, the black market wasn’t very far away. When people became addicted to the painkillers they were being prescribed and their prescriptions were discontinued, addicts found themselves going to the street to buy the tablets. Inevitably, the price on the black market of this sought after commodity began to rise. People addicted to opiates realized that it would be cheaper to buy street heroin and they would also receive a stronger buzz. Also, when you are in the depths of a unrelenting addiction such as an opiate addiction, the need to cure your “dope sickness” will make people go where they can to find relief from the symptoms.
The Mexican Cartels saw a business opportunity to be capitalised upon and began to flood America with cheap, potent heroin. Between 2005-2009, heroin production in Mexico rose 600 percent, showing the cartels desire to respond to the needs of a changing drug market within the states. Many smugglers exploiting the laxity of American border controls in the south began to transport drugs into the country. Illegal immigrants who were also cartel members back in their native Mexico came into the country to set up distribution centres in American cities which would eventually spread their tentacles into middle America, the place where the highest demand was.
The human cost of this epidemic is staggeringly high. While during the crack epidemic the rate of death was estimated to be 2 per 100,000. During this latest crisis the death rate for opioid addiction is believed to be on average 10.3 people per 100,000 in 2016. In some areas, the level is far higher. In New Hampshire, the rate of deaths were a staggering 30 per 100,000 people and in West Virginia the rate is a phenomenal 40 per 100,000. In 2015, more than 33,000 people died of opiate overdoses. To put that into context, that is the equivalent of a casualty rate the same as on 9/11 approximately every 4 and a half weeks. Americans are now more likely to die from an opiate overdose than in an automobile accident, and the number of people who died from just heroin, excluding prescription drugs was more than the number of Americans killed in gun homicides. The use of the drug Fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin by unscrupulous dealers as a cutting agent is thought to have contributed to this rise in overdoses also.
Demographically speaking, the people who are most likely to be affected by this crisis are white people, and to a lesser extent Native Americans. Rural communities in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania has become ground zero for this. Areas which have seen industries leave due to globalisation, removing job security for many of the people in the town resulting in crippling poverty are the most likely to be affected by the ravages of the opiate epidemic. (When leftists go on about white privilege I always stop and wonder where these poor souls white privilege is.) The opiate epidemic has become so bad in America that the life expectancy for white middle aged men has been declining over the last few years after seeing years of rises.
The opioid epidemic has since been declared a public health emergency by the Trump administration. The boost to the economy under Trump is likely to alleviate some of the pressure in these affected communities as jobs return. But issues still remain in the area of border security. As long as the borders are not protected, Mexican Cartels will still be able to get kilos and even tons of the drug into the nation to devastate already devastated communities.
There is also a ethical question I have been pondering on while writing this article. While I wanted to avoid turning this into a political issue, the politics of immigration cannot be overlooked. Open border advocates and Democrats at large put the needs of illegal aliens above the needs of these long-suffering communities. A big reason why people voted for Trump in 2016 is because people wanted to see the needs of Americans put first, regardless of colour. If you are spending all your time politically catering to the needs of people who don’t even have a right to be in the country, how can you help your own people. There is also the greatest issue of if you are letting people into the country from places such as Mexico where drug cartels command more power arguably than the government, how can you protect your already vulnerable citizens from being exposed to drug traffickers when you don’t even know who is coming into the country. Open borders, greedy pharmaceutical companies and ridiculous legislation from the Obama administration have contributed to this issue greatly. The political angle of this issue cannot be dismissed.
But setting politics aside, these communities are clearly in desperate need of help. For too long they have been ignored by the elitists and left-wing snobs who have looked at them as hicks and rubes. The issue of drug addiction will always be with us. As humans our desires and vices cannot be halted, only managed so on a societal level it doesn’t cause the great harm we are seeing associated with the opioid crisis. Hopefully something can be done soon, because the opioid epidemic is becoming not a killer that is visible like the aftermath of a gunfight or a car wreck where everyone stops to look at the drama. The opioid epidemic is becoming the silent killer of a generation that so often remains behind the closed doors of middle America.
Picture from cbsnews.com