A Nation of Addicts — The Resurgence of Opioid Deaths
During the 2016 presidential campaign, no candidate mentioned America’s drug epidemic as much as Donald Trump. With compassion and clarity, Trump consistently highlighted an issue that politicians have been avoiding for far too long. He characterized drugs as part of America’s “carnage,” a fitting term for a problem that needs our immediate attention.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “more than a half million people died from drug overdoses” between 2000 and 2015. Additionally, the CDC reports that “two distinct but interconnected trends are driving America’s opioid overdose epidemic: a 15-year increase in deaths from prescription opioid overdoses, and a recent surge in illicit opioid overdoses driven mainly by heroin and illegally-made fentanyl. Both of these trends continued in 2015.” In fact, in 2016, of the 52,000 fatal drug overdoses, almost 33,000 were opioids. That is more deaths from drug overdose than from fatal vehicle crashes and homicides combined.
The allure of drugs is both complex and powerful. And while politicians across the spectrum seem to be stuck on the same failed approaches, the epidemic of opioid addiction — driven primarily by the overprescription of opiate-based pain killers — has clearly raised the stakes.
Democrats invariably favor more funding and more programs. Such an approach may be temporarily effective, but a recovering addict is more likely to return to drugs in dilapidated towns and cities where factories have shut down and government assistance is the only way to put food on the table.
The cyclical nature of drug addiction allows Democrats to trade a helping hand in exchange for broader public support without addressing the vicious cycle of dependency. Democrats are even turning police officers into social workers and medical staff — as if the job of law enforcement weren’t already tough enough.
By supporting decades of failed economic policies that have gutted cities like Detroit and Baltimore, and leaving millions of people dependent on drugs and government in the process, Democrats have robbed our most vulnerable populations of the pride and self-worth that comes with making a living.
Republicans, however, haven’t done any better by dismissing addicts as derelicts who deserve to be cast out of polite society. Our prisons are bursting at the seams with drug offenders, and the problem is no longer restricted to our big cities. Addicts are now as likely to be found in small-town New Hampshire or West Virginia as in any major city across the country. If theirs is truly the party of ideas, Republicans must stop writing off addicts as inner-city criminals and recognize that today, the profile of addicts includes many once-productive citizens who need a path to recovery.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump called for more border enforcement to intercept the flow of drugs into the country and reduce regulations that prevent abuse-deterring drugs from getting to those who need it. But again, a major part of the current addition epidemic starts with prescribed narcotics.
In addition, strange bedfellows such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, and CNN talkinghead Van Jones are beginning to change the way we think about drug addiction through their work with the organization Advocates for Opioid Recovery. Their efforts are giving us hope that we can tackle this predicament with real, long-term solutions.
As promising as such an approach may be, one rarely mentioned truth is that job opportunities and a strong economy greatly reduce the likelihood of addiction, and make long-term recovery more viable. At the same time, drug addiction clearly has a significant, negative impact on our economy.
Citizens who are gainfully employed and able to provide for themselves and their families are happier and less susceptible to the dark temptation of drugs. The pride and satisfaction that comes with self-sufficiency and independence cannot be underestimated. And a nation of productive citizens will naturally be better equipped for economic growth. Opioid addiction is about individuals and families and communities, but it’s also about our country. And a drug-plagued nation cannot be both prosperous and free.
A rare opportunity now exists with Donald Trump in the White House and Republicans in control of Congress. Sitting around and blaming Democrats for their failed policies is no longer good enough.