The opioid crisis currently impacts a huge percentage of Americans, especially those in working-class blue collar jobs.
While president Trump declared the widespread drug abuse an epidemic, little has precipitated as far as actual policy goes. Though the beginnings of a task force have formed under Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate big pharma culpability, morale is low throughout the country.
The opioid crisis has garnered a slow-burn of media attention and news coverage in the past years.
A financially vulnerable population which is also subject to workplace-related injuries has access to cheap, federally-insured painkillers — which are, incidentally, extremely addictive. The producers of these pills are invested in selling as many as possible, making their addictive qualities — if not desirable — not entirely unappealing. Likewise, many of the target population rely on government healthcare, which does not provide for costly alternate methods for treating injuries.
Contributing Factors to the Opioid Crisis
Several factors contribute to the epidemic. First, large pharmaceutical companies have pushed the use and sale of their prescription painkillers, many of which are highly addictive. Following this, doctors often overprescribe their patients — writing prescriptions aids the status quo for workplace-related injuries.
Patients, many of whom work blue collar labor jobs, have few options besides taking the prescribed pills. Pursuing alternate methods can be dangerous — with many methods under research and yet untested — and costly. Many basic health insurance plans do not provide for physical therapy sessions, which quickly transcend the paygrade of many blue collar workers. The confluence of these factors paints a messy picture.
From this savage storm, millions of Americans have found themselves involuntarily addicted to prescription pills. The story, sadly, does not end here. Many of the new addicts are set in a prescription schedule and eventually taken off. For those who have undergone months — in some cases years — of drug therapy, the weaning off can be extremely difficult and is rarely medically assisted. The former prescription users often slip into cheaper, street drug use, including heroin and fentanyl.
Whatever point an addict is at — from early-term prescription addiction to late-stage Fentanyl use — substance addiction has a profound effect on an individual’s mental and physical well-being. This is a group which suffers from a crime not committed, from choices they never made.
Here’s What the Government Is — or Isn’t — Doing
The government response to the epidemic has been sluggish and poorly organized. Jeff Sessions and president Trump have both voiced support for the reigniting of former Reagan-era policies targeting drug dealing, including “just say no” campaigns and prison time for dealers. This same tactic proved disastrous in the 80’s.
Jeff Sessions also recently announced the Justice Department’s interest in supporting state and local lawsuits against large pharmacy companies, which flies in the face of the aforementioned policies. While one puts the blame on the individuals using and dealing drugs, the other places the blame on the large corporations creating the pills. The lack of coherent policy on the topic is fueling confusion in the ranks of the DOJ.
Further, while the president declared the opioid crisis an emergency, he stopped short of unlocking significant government funds earmarked for such situations. Declaring epidemic status does little more than provide public attention on the topic, and those suffering from addiction have little tangible aid with their situation. Likewise, his 90-day call to action for government health professionals has yielded nothing but full rhetoric and empty promises.
The Current State
The situation rests as it has for years — the big pharma companies shrug off allegations of their responsibility in the epidemic, and the rate of addiction and overdose has climbed significantly since the late-90s and early 2000s. Today, millions continue to use opioids, and they are widely prescribed. While we have yet to see what Sessions’ task force will yield, this is an administration widely friendly to big business and free trade. Given this, the general lack of action on the epidemic front is understandable.
It is, however, not excusable. When making promises for government intervention and support on the subject, the president has been characteristically vague, promising "big" and "great" changes shortly, while leaving necessary government funds frozen. Even if the prescription epidemic were neutralized tomorrow, millions of Americans have already turned to heroin or Fentanyl use and will need the extended support of government rehab services to begin returning to normal lives.
As yet, these changes seem like a distant future, and vague promises do nothing for the hard reality of state-sponsored drug addiction. Millions more will become addicted in the coming years, and with opioid overdose rates climbing to over half a million cases — roughly 600,000 — one question is on everybody’s mind.
When will it end?