As we turn the calendar to another year, it’s natural to reflect on the year we have left behind. 2016 has given us a myriad of headlines that have both lifted our sprits as well as diminished our confidence in humanity. Media coverage of addiction has strolled on both sides of that line. We have heard mainly of the rise in drug overdose deaths over the last 15 years, the opioid epidemic and the Surgeon General’s first report on alcohol, drugs and health.
According to a report released by CNN in October of 2016, drug overdoses now outnumber accidental deaths by cars and guns and have since 2009. These fatal overdoses are steadily on the rise with seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel. There are seven states that see 21.5-36.3 overdose deaths per 100,000 people each year. That statistic has risen steadily in every state since 1999.
Opioids are painkillers that act on the nervous system. Continued use and abuse can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. The US Department of Health & Human Services reported in June of 2016 that prescription opioids and heroin are the leading drugs involved in overdose fatalities; more than 6 out of 10. In 2016, an average American day saw 78 people die of an opioid-related overdose, 580 people use heroin for the first time and 3,900 people use prescription opioids for nonmedical reasons. Four in five heroin users start their opioid journey by misusing prescription opioids. Overall in the US, there are roughly 2.5 million people who use heroin or abuse prescription opioids.
In November we were privileged as a country to see the first ever Surgeon General’s report on alcohol, drugs and health. In this report we learned that there are approximately 23 million people facing addiction disease. That’s one and a half times more people facing addiction than people with every type of cancer combined. However, mostly accredited to the negative social stigma surrounding addiction, only one in ten people receive treatment. That leaves roughly 20 million people living day to day with a disease and no avenue to fight it. The Surgeon General reports that scientific research has concluded that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain affecting the circuitry within the brain, impacting decision making, impulse control and a person’s stress and reward system. The brain can heal from this disease but it takes months or even years.
In conclusion, America needs to take a serious look at addiction and put it in a new light. Recovery is absolutely possible. However, if people are too afraid to come forward with their problems because of how they will be viewed by society, recovery never has a chance. We must become supportive of those facing this disease. We must educate ourselves on this disease. It touches all of our lives in some way and I for one would like to watch addiction itself recede into the darkness rather than the people it has a stranglehold on.