An ambulance rushing to save a drug user is a common sight in Baltimore, Maryland. Over the past decade, the number of opioid overdoses has quadrupled in the US. Like countless other cities, Baltimore has been struggling with crack,heroin and opioid addiction for decades.
Widespread unemployment, poor housing and poverty have played their part in the crisis but the soaring cost of health care coupled with aggressive marketing from Pharmaceutical companies are making opioid addiction a public health emergency.
Leana Wen, the Baltimore Health Commissioner told Euronews: “Unfortunately, there is an epidemic of over-proscribing of opioids happening, incidentally that in the US there are enough prescriptions for opioids that are given every year for every adult American to have their own bottle. Americans are five percent of the world’s population and over 80 percent of prescriptions of the world’s opioids. Do we really need so many opioids? The answer of course is not.”
Lack of political will
Though not on the top of the agenda in this years presidential election, many voters in New Hampshire and the swing state of Ohio, have said opioid-addiction is the number one problem facing the country.
Over the past 20 years, the liberalisation of laws governing opioid prescription for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain has helped lead the US head first into this crisis.
Policing the crisis
Mark Sheelor, Montgomery County Police officer explained: “We are trying to look at low-level offenses, things such as disorderly conduct or minor theft cases where substance use is the primary factor that is causing those people to commit the crimes that they are committing and trying to divert them away from the (criminal justice) system by getting them help.”
The over-prescription of opioids often comes with the dangerous assumption that they are highly effective and safe, when prescribed by physicians. The opposite is true. Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of injury death in the US. 128 people die from overdoses of pharmaceutical drugs, opioids and heroine each day.
Michael Krafft, a recovering drug addict told Euronews: “Some of these drugs are so powerful-the way out is so scary because of the pain you have to go through that most won’t attempt it. There are people in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous that have managed to stay clean for 15, 20, 30 years…and then have that one day…Take that first drink or drug for someone like me, my life is over. My life is over.”
The number one injury killer
Illegal and prescription drug-addiction is not exclusive to impoverished inner cities. It is now a major crisis for many middle-class suburbs.
Euronews spoke to Don Wood whose son died from an opiate overdose.
Don Wood – Father of an overdose victim
“I found my son – dead. I went into the room, he was staying in a sober house, and I found him and he had been dead for about 14 hours…
Q: How old was he?
A: He was 32, 32… So, on and off he dealt with his addictions and he was a functional addict. If you look at the pharmaceuticals, the government, the medical profession, they all share responsibility for where we are today. That is going to have to change, and the treatment of mental illness to get help and the kind of help and rehabilitation that is necessary.”
Nearly 23 million Americans suffer from a substance use disorder, but only about one in 10 receive treatment.
Leana Wen – Baltimore Health Commissioner
“The tragedy to me is that the science is clear. The science is unequivocal that addiction is a disease, that treatment exists. We know what treatment works. We know that recovery is possible. We just need to have the funding and the political willpower to make it happen.”
Stefan Grobe – Euronews
“Experts call the opioid abuse and addiction crisis a public health emergency. Yet, there has been very little political conversation about it in the presidential campaign. One thing is certain, though, whoever wins the White House will have a major problem that threatens to destroy the fabric of American society.”