By Clara Snyder | Staff Writer
The late 1990s marked the birth of the opioid epidemic in the US, and prescription drugs rose after promises from drug companies that the substance would not become addictive. Since then, an opioid-related overdose has claimed the lives of more than 500,000 people across the country. Given the lack of progress since 1999 and the hostile atmosphere towards addiction, I don’t think this country is currently equipped to solve this problem.
In 2019 alone, the number of opioid overdose victims was seven times higher than the number of US servicemen killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to the cost of life, the epidemic accounts for $141.8 billion a year between lost productivity, health care and criminal justice costs.
Over the past two decades, there have been numerous federal approaches to reduce supply and demand. While some policy effectiveness can be seen in 2020, when the dispensing rate was its lowest in 15 years, overall the problem was barely ameliorated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “While the overall opioid dispensing rate in 2020 was 43.3 prescriptions per 100 people, some counties had rates nine times higher than that.”
Federal lawmakers have repeatedly failed to make positive changes on this issue. Their policy rejects the complexities of addiction and revolves around a generalization of the opioid crisis as a whole. These generalizations not only create ineffective policies, but also further the problem. According to the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, policymakers’ focus on past patterns and misunderstanding the nonlinear nature of the epidemic could have new consequences.
The high density of regulations across the country over the past two decades is a monument to the disinterest of pharmaceutical companies in the public interest, and it has led to an unparalleled monopolization of financial power by these companies. According to The Lancet, the priority these manufacturers give to corporate interests over the public interest as a force to contain the crisis remains.
Aside from the policy errors and moral misconceptions at the heart of this issue, the current state of American culture is in many ways incompatible with recovering from an opioid addiction. Widespread misinformation and stigmatization act as counterparts to cultivating a national atmosphere with the ability to deflate the current crisis.
Since the beginning of the epidemic, drug abuse has been reviled by the criminal justice system as a social value. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, this villainy sparks conversations about whether addiction is a personal choice.
Addiction is widely misunderstood as a result of poor life choices and irresponsibility. This misconception is extremely damaging to patients, as scientists estimate that 40% to 60% of a person’s vulnerability to addiction is genetic.
Further stigma is created by the harmful portrayal of addiction in the media. While the media has led to an overall increase in public knowledge about mental illness and substance abuse, its portrayal has not reduced stigma.
The portrayal of this struggle in the media promotes generalization in the minds of consumers, as it creates the characterization that these individuals are harmful and dangerous to the public. The National Institutes of Health describes the media’s role in cultivating fear of people with active addiction and intensifying the perceived dangers of their personalities.
For the US to properly fight the opioid epidemic, there must be a prominent shift in the way American culture perceives the fight against addiction. Flatten the curve begins with recognizing addiction as a matter of human experience that contrasts with federal policy.
In addition to increasing public knowledge, it is essential for the future of addiction in our culture to become aware of stereotypes and misinformation. Visit the websites of Baylor’s Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center and the CDC for more information about the opioid crisis and student resources.