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Michael Swartz / February 7, 2020

Is America Kicking Its Opioid Habit?

We’re finally seeing some progress on both addiction cases and life expectancy.

As President Donald Trump noted in his State of the Union Address, there’s good news on the public-health front. The increase in deaths traced to the overdose of drugs has finally come to a halt in all but five states. Consequently, life expectancy edged up for the first time in three years.

Overall, the toll declined 4.1% from 2017 to 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available. Excepting California, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey, and South Carolina, the nation saw declines in mortality of up to 27%, with Alaska and Ohio leading the way.

Unlike the stereotypical image of a junkie slumped over on an urban street corner, the opioid epidemic has hit hardest in rural states and areas, especially among working-class whites. Oftentimes the root cause of this scourge was a nagging injury or malady for which doctors prescribed opioid-based painkillers once thought to be non-addictive. But once that prescription ran out and the practice of “doctor shopping” became the subject of a government crackdown, those afflicted turned to the illegal — but readily available — substitute of heroin. This not only led to the surge in opioid-related deaths; the increase in demand led to the practice of black-market sellers cutting those drugs with inexpensive fentanyl for a more potent high.

In 2018, President Trump vowed to stop the “scourge of drug additions” with a three-pronged approach: addressing the supply end with a crackdown on illegal sales, enhanced recovery programs, and revamping prescription policies while simultaneously encouraging development of less addictive painkillers. One advantage he had, however, was the sheer number of state and local programs — at times involving federal or state grants — being put in place to address the issue. This allowed researchers to determine how positive those results were and determine their scalability — a necessary component given the estimated two million Americans who are addicted to painkillers.

To be sure, some treatment options are more controversial than others. Few of us are eager to see a recovery center in our neighborhood, and needle-exchange programs spark significant outcry from those who argue that taxpayers shouldn’t be funding the enablement of this destructive habit. But each success story brings a recovering addict back to the status of productive citizen, which makes that investment worthwhile.

As President Trump vowed on Tuesday, “We will not quit until we have beaten the opioid epidemic once and for all.”

At this point, it’s another success story for the Trump administration, but one not without its critics. As The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote, “Liberals prescribe more government health care as an opioid antidote, and on Wednesday many said the Trump Administration’s health-care policies have worsened the epidemic, evidence notwithstanding.”

Perhaps it’s not the one-size-fits-all solution they desire, or maybe it’s just sour grapes from the failure of ObamaCare to address the problem. But the Left’s unwillingness to acknowledge this progress led the Journal to conclude, “Antipathy to Mr. Trump is as addictive as any drug.”

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