Few left untouched by sustained drug epidemic


The stories are in every community, across every income and background.

The woman who sold her body for drugs.

The man found dead from an overdose in the front yard of his home.

The paramedics, exhausted and jaded from squad run after squad run with the same outcome: more overdoses, more dead.

We are increasingly addicted and dying. And the signs are all over our communities.

Syringes litter the park where your kids play and the streets where you walk to work. Officers are spending extra time patrolling neighborhoods after repeated reports of vehicle and home break-ins.

Hospitals treat infants born addicted to drugs — an issue they had never even dealt with a few years ago. Social service agencies are begging for residents to become foster parents, taking in children whose parents are in jail, on drugs or even dead.

Tormented families are desperately trying to get help for sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. In many cases, they have to plan funerals instead.

No one is left untouched by the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.

In 2016, 42,000 Americans — or 115 people a day — died after overdosing on opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s more than the number of deaths from breast cancer and prostate cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

For every 100 people in our county, 84 prescriptions for pain medications are written, flooding households with OxyContin and Vicodin pills that breed an addiction, or are stolen by addicted family members or thieves looking for a fix during a break-in, according to data from 2016.

Addiction is a nationwide issue. According to the CDC, nearly 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioid medications in 2014. And as many as 1 in 4 people who take prescription opioids long-term for pain not related to cancer struggles with addiction.

The number of overdoses continue to climb. In 2016, the number of deaths from opioid overdoses was five times higher than in 1999, according to the CDC. More than a half a million people died from drug overdoses from 2000 to 2015. Everyday, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency rooms across the nation for incorrectly using prescription opioids.

Another concern is the spread of potent synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, that police are finding more and more often. From 2014 to 2015, the number of times police have come across the drug has doubled. The CDC put out an alert about the spread of the drug in 2015, citing it as the reason for significant increases in recent years of opioid deaths.

Right now, treatment is often out of reach for people struggling with addiction.

In 2009, 23.5 million people needed treatment for a drug or alcohol abuse problem, but only 2.6 million — 11.2 percent — received it at a specialty facility, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

For families with insurance, rehabilitation is within reach, but facilities are often out of state, and bills remain high even with insurance. Just months before his death from an overdose, a 23-year-old was planning to file bankruptcy over his rehabilitation bills, which totaled more than $100,000 after insurance had paid its part, his mother said.

Communities are tasked with considering a range of options, but in many places few have been implemented while police and fire departments are being called to more and more overdoses.

The issue is the cost, and no one is sure how to afford it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.

So the question is: What now?

For families struggling, local officials fretting, the economy suffering and the emergency workers rushing to help, that fix can’t come soon enough.


AIM Media network

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