The Disease of Addiction and Our Epidemic Response: A Thoughtful Comparison

To preface this post, I’ll just say that this is not written to downplay our current pandemic in any way.

I am self-quarantining and have been for nearly 2 weeks. I didn’t even go out of the house for my 30th birthday last week! I also have no doubt that this virus is real.

However, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t some big questions I still have on the way this is unfolding and why the world is responding in the way that it is.

➡️ This has been on my mind a lot and I don’t see it talked about much, so I’d love to have a respectful discussion with those of you who have an opinion on the disease of addiction, or have been impacted by it as I have.

This is an opportunity to compare, contrast, and evaluate the way that we as humans make decisions, the impact of certain factors on how we view circumstances, and to find any other conclusions we may draw from this.

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THE COMPARISON:

The world has several “pandemics”, a major one being addiction to drugs and alcohol.

– Most Medical professionals call addiction a disease.

– This is a very real problem and has tripled in severity in the last 20 years.

– My family has been personally affected by it, and I know dozens of others who have experienced its horrible impacts as well. This spreads just like other diseases, but simply in different ways.

– We have the power to stop it if we tried, considering that we promote the sale of alcohol, cigarettes, and prescription drugs, and we do not invest significant resources in keeping illegal drugs out.

– We do very little as a government, community or world to end this crisis and attempt to “slow the curve” if you will. Yes, things are done, but not even close to this level.

– Just like a communicable disease, this disease knows no color, race, age, gender, background or status. It can touch anyone.

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THE QUESTIONS:

My question is, why are we responding so strongly to this epidemic when we live with others each and every day without much thought (unless you’ve known or lost someone to the disease)?

– What deems one “disease” more important than another?

– What are the factors that go into deciding where trillions of dollars will be spent or when the economy is shut down.

– Is it number of deaths?
– Number of people affected or “infected”?
– Number of people who have long term effects?

I’d love to get your take.

Let’s take a look at the facts from the CDC, addiction specialists, and other statistics. All sources cited at the bottom for reference.

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THE FACTS: DRUGS

– In America alone, over 700,000 deaths have occurred due to drugs and alcohol in the last 18 years. (2019 and 2020 not included)

– Over 70,000 deaths occur each year from drug overdoses, primarily opioids, and a large number of them are prescriptions taken by those they were prescribed to.

– About 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

– From 1999 to 2017, 399,230 Americans lost their lives to opioids alone.

– In 2017, doctors issued 191,218,272 opioid prescriptions.

– Since 1999, the sale of opioid painkillers has skyrocketed by 300%, even though deaths from them continue to grow at alarming rates.

– About 494,000 Americans over the age of 12 are regular heroin users.

– Synthetic opiate deaths have increased by over 10% in the last 1-2 years from things like Fentanyl, which is prescribed by medical professionals.

– Nearly 20,000 deaths occur from heroin each year.

– There are many long term physical and mental deficits that addicts or recovered addicts live with resulting from the disease.

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THE FACTS: ALCOHOL

– Every year, worldwide, alcohol is the cause of 5.3% of deaths (or 1 in every 20).

– About 300 million people throughout the world have an alcohol use disorder.

– On average, 30 Americans die every day in an alcohol-related car accident, and six Americans die every day from alcohol poisoning.

– About 88,000 people die as a result of alcohol every year just in the United States.

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THE FACTS: TOBACCO

– About 34 million Americans smoke cigarettes.

– Smoking cigarettes is the cause of over 480,000 deaths every year in the United States.

– Secondhand smoke causes approximately 7,330 deaths from lung cancer and 33,950 deaths from heart disease each year

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POLITICAL & FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS:

As a country, we have clearly allowed political funds to impact decisions, as is made evident by the money spent on lobbying.

– In 2019 alone, lobbyists spend $3.47 billion on influencing political policy, representing the highest sum spend on lobbying since lobbying spend peaked in 2010.

– Pharmaceutical companies alone are the biggest spender on lobbying, Spending $3.9 billion over the past 20 years, and far exceeding other industries.

– In 2017, tobacco lobbies paid $21.8 million, and alcohol lobbyist are right up there with them.

– Even though… Alcohol and drug addiction cost the U.S. economy over $600 billion every year.

– How the Opioid Epidemic Began:

“As pharmaceutical companies were looking for new pain killers, they began to push synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids to doctors. The companies would say that the drugs were either less- or non-addictive in comparison to morphine and had no dangerous side effects. Naturally, doctors began pushing these drugs as they saw no repercussions to patients taking them. This growth in the prescription opioid business directly pushed the distribution of opioids to levels that remain to this day, contributing to the epidemic we are now dealing with.”

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THE SPREAD:

– There are Negative Impacts That Touch Hundreds of Thousands Outside of the Drug or Alcohol User.

– Entire families are torn apart by drug and alcohol addiction. I’ve experienced this first hand. Mental, physical and financial.

– 80% of domestic violence cases are fueled by alcohol or drug use.

– Those that experience that domestic violence are then 15x more likely to develop drug or alcohol addictions themselves, causing the cycle to continue, such as a contagious infection.

– Secondhand smoke causes approximately 7,330 deaths from lung cancer and 33,950 deaths from heart disease each year. This is someone who did not choose to smoke. Sids has also been associated with second-hand smoke.

– Fetal Alcohol Syndrom is a direct result, impacting an innocent child’s life and those that love them.

– Workplace accidents, DUI’s where innocent parties are killed, and many more issues arise from this, spreading far beyond the source.

– “The impact of this epidemic on the medical community is dramatic. Emergency system resources, already on overload, are further taxed and drained by the increased 911 calls for overdose incidents. This means that instead of responding to heart attacks, strokes, or other emergencies, first responders are spending time stabilizing overdose patients and taking them to hospitals. This resource drain spreads to emergency rooms and hospitals as they treat these patients. Eventually, the epidemic results in higher insurance costs to cover the impact on medical resources.” – TheHospitalist.org

These statistics show that this, like a communicable disease, does not simply affect the person who chooses to consume the substance, It can impact us all, and has long been impacting the medical system we seem to be so concerned with overwhelming right now.

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THE CONCLUSION:

– Based on the facts I’ve listed, do you consider this to be an epidemic that we should all be taking more seriously?

– Why do you think this epidemic has gotten little to no financial, governmental or media attention (especially in comparison, but in general as well)?

– Do you believe that these statistics change anything about the way we’re currently looking at the current pandemic?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Sources:

https://www.centeronaddiction.org/what-addiction/addiction-disease

https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/addiction-statistics/

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db356.htm

https://www.alcoholjustice.org/press-room/press-releases/79-californias-alcohol-lobby-spends-big-bucks-to-buy-big-results-.html

https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/domestic-violence/

https://www.lung.org/quit-smoking/smoking-facts/health-effects/secondhand-smoke

https://www.the-hospitalist.org/hospitalist/article/149858/mental-health/opioid-epidemic-and-its-impact-health-care-system

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