Overdose and America: The Uphill Fight

Overdose and America: The Uphill Fight
Photo by Myriam Zilles / Unsplash

Growing up in Massachusetts gave me experience with the opioid epidemic as this state has been hit constantly and hard with rising numbers of OD and addiction cases.  This issue has been one that is both overlooked while simultaneously being everywhere in daily life as mounting numbers proves a tough challenge to law makers and activists alike.  The concern continues to grow as policy has seemed to fail at every turn and the overall rates are only getting worse regardless of attempts to find a solution. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics some 108,000 people died from overdose during 2021 in the United States.  A staggering number in of itself, but when looked at the year-to-year rise the statistics look even more grim.

From 2020-2021 the number of deaths increased by 15% and in 2019 to 2020 they increased by 30%.  These horrific numbers have impacted the most at-risk communities as many of these deaths are younger people from underdeveloped areas of the country that do not have the resources to control these issues.  According to a study published in JAMA, younger people are now more at risk than ever to succumbing to overdose in underdeveloped areas with the introduction of deadlier drugs such a fentanyl becoming a leading cause of death for youth.

The development of and distribution of anti-overdose drugs have assisted in lowering these numbers, but a lack of policy change or implementation have limited in their success. While the individual may be saved for one time, this does not mean that they will not die from an overdose in the next week leaving the same issue open. This is the way that distribution of anti-overdose drugs work as they are an important life saving medicine but do not help the root cause. It would be as if a person suffering a heart attack was revived, but never got the bypass surgery they needed and were simply released from the hospital. The band-aid that has been put on the issue is not going to close or heal the wound that was there in the first place.

Most governments have tried to tackle the drug issue although many attempts have been proven to have just been weak-attempted publicity stunts or have backfired spectacularly. The war on drugs is a perfect example of how policy has time and again failed to address or fix any of the underlying issues that cause the problem in the first place.  Further than this many of the help centers that are targeting these areas are few and far between and are so disastrously underfunded that their hands are tied from doing any real good on the issue.

The Biden administration itself has had little effort put into the issue so far, but a statement from the Office of National Drug Control Policy director Dr Rahul Gupta finally addressed their plan to fix the issue. Their outline of the issue was directed at a strategy that has been proven to help in some ways, in that it was directed more at harm reduction strategies than aggressive deterrence. As we have seen in the past aggressive deterrence has often been a counter to progress in the way of drug treatment while this new policy could shine light on an issue that often felt hopeless and never ending.  In the official report by the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, a multi-pronged approach was suggested to legislate official response and direction for the fight against substance abuse.

Their approach itself was diverse, first to hit the producers of illicit drugs, to help those presently in need of assistance with substance abuse, international collaboration, and lastly better research and data analysis to prevent at-risk individuals before addiction can happen. While this does not mean that it will become policy or even enough, this seems to be a step in the right direction and if the Biden administration should continue down this path there is significant possibility in reduction of substance abuse and such related deaths in the coming years.