So… Where’s Trump at With the Opioid Problem?

For those impacted by the opioid epidemic raging through America, this has reared a story of frustration and inadequacy.

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 Epidemic

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?

Comments
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ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

@Filibuster69 While I personally don't like the idea of providing sanctioned places to break the law, it is undeniable the benefits that safe injection sites have to a region. Studies have shown that in the cities that implement them, there is a better outcome in public health and safety. It does also increase potential for users to seek help and substance abuse treatment. It is definitely something that the public health sector needs to seriously consider, but also one that I believe Congress needs to act on because those types of facilities would be illegal under current federal law.
I have personally seen people who started treatment and haven't used to this day, but I've also seen people check themselves into treatment 6 or 7 times, each time with longer periods of sobriety between. I would say it's definitely a case-by-case basis for how someone gets clean and stays clean, but certainly sometimes relapse is part of the equation.
I always love an intelligent conversation that challenges preconceived ideas because this is where solutions begin! Thanks Filibuster69!

Filibuster69
Filibuster69

ThreePatriots do you think that safe injection sites like the ones in Vancouver and other European nations would work? I do know that not only do they allow for a safer place to inject, but many do have social workers on site to offer help and programs for the addicts. I know that to many it seems like just enabling the addict, but with 175 people dying from overdoses everyday do you think it would be worth it to at the very least cut down the body count, especially if some addicts can be helped?

Also as a recovering addict who mainlined heroin for years (among many other drugs) I know completely, and understand that whole opioid receptor part. That was one thing that made it so hard to get clean. In your opinion do you think that relapse sometimes is the only way someone might eventually get sober. I'm not saying that it's ok, but I do know from experience that I've had to fall several times before I was gonna succeed.

Also thank you for the response. You are knowledgeable, and that is extremely helpful in gaining a better understanding of this health crisis.

ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

Lots of great questions, @A_Chapman and @Filibuster69. As far as as easy, fix all solution, I don't have a clue what to do to completely fix it, but there are some steps we can take to try and at least reduce it. In regards to recent proposals from POTUS, I'm really not sure where the "death penalty for drug dealers" comes from, but I seriously doubt it's effectiveness, much less it's feasibility. I mean, look at death row today in states that allow capital punishment. 20+ years in some places.

As far as marijuana legalization goes, I'm personally not in favor of complete decriminalization because it has been shown to be a gateway to harder drugs for some, as well as we still don't have enough data to conclude that it is in fact a safe product... first thing that DOES need to happen is to remove it's Schedule 1 status with the DEA and allow research to be done on it's usefulness as well as it's side effects. There are proven benefits to medical marijuana and I'm for allowing that, under the supervision of a healthcare professional, just like all other medical treatments are.

I do think that the healthcare field has helped spur along the epidemic, although much of it unintentionally. @Filibuster69 is correct that in the 90's, the pharmaceutical companies did promote opioids as non-addictive pain relief medications, but one thing is for sure, they work and they work well for pain. They worked so well, in fact that the hospitals began encouraging their use (as I mentioned before) to increase patient satisfaction survey results. Then, people began becoming addicted to them and the medical community knew there were really only 2 immediate options for those who were addicted... more pills, or street drugs -- voila, the heroin craze began. So healthcare began opening up pain management centers by the dozen to help people with these issues manage their addiction by supplying their pills. But the thing about opioid receptors in the human body, they become resistant to current levels of the medicine and therefore, you need more to get the same pain control (or for those using it illicitly, for the same high). We now unintentionally increased the usage of opiates by those we were originally trying to help.
One aspect that I am very interested in and want to see more scientific studies done on is CBD oil (Cannabidiol). The studies I have seen so far show that it is highly effective in pain control as well as treatment of many other diseases like fibromyalgia, epilepsy, etc. CBD is a derivative of the cannabis plant, but it has no psychoactive properties. Rather than encouraging people to get high, we can give the same medicinal benefits of marijuana in a form that doesn't impair one's mental faculties.
Furthermore, we need to be very careful how we approach this issue in so much as not to remove the access to opiates for people that legitimately need them such as terminal cancer patients, post-operative surgery needs, acute broken bones, etc.
More criminalization of opiates will likely not do much good, except increase the drugs coming over from Mexico and South America, just like prohibiting alcohol worked during prohibition.
Finally, we need to increase access to addiction treatment centers and likely increase the total number of facilities, to help those who have been affected by the current crisis, get their lives back. Now, having worked at a world renowned addiction treatment facility, I know that we need to approach this with realistic expectations... rehabilitation doesn't always work, or it may not be permanent. We need to not only give access, but give continual support to help people with their addictions, even when in remission because it doesn't take much of a trigger to quickly drop someone back into the same game they played before they decided to clean up their life.

Filibuster69
Filibuster69

ThreePatriots my wife works for the courts, specifically drug court and what you have said is true. Doctors are in a sense forced to give the painkillers to patients. That said, the pharmaceutical companies are also to blame because they pushed the drugs while not informing the public of their addictiveness. Those companies also offered bonuses to doctors who prescribed the most.

What you said about the government being involved usually means it's not a good thing is true. While the Mexican drug cartels are indeed smuggling heroin into the U.S., it is the pharmaceutical companies that had started this epidemic, and are not be held responsible by the government because they have lobbyists in Washington.

Filibuster69
Filibuster69

A_Chapman it has been shown that marijuana can be very helpful in helping someone addicted to opioids get clean.

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