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What does opioid epidemic say about our shared culture?
America is addicted and dying from drug overdoses. Arizona is anchored squarely in this dysfunctional new reality.
There’s a lot of talk about who is to blame for the epidemic of opioid deaths.
There’s a bigger need to ask how our culture enabled this crisis.
Round up the usual suspects.
Our pharmaceutical companies got us here. Our doctors got us here. Our desire to escape reality got us here.
Let’s look at them one by one:
Pharmaceutical companies made a lot of money selling opioid painkillers, and some say they did so without regard to the dangers.
On May 31, Ohio filed suit against five pharmaceutical companies saying drug makers spent “millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials that falsely deny or trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain.”
Too many doctors failed to look closely at the drugs they were prescribing.
Before the spotlight was turned on this problem, it was not uncommon to hear stories of people returning home after surgery with enough oxycodone to chemically enslave or kill them.
In 2015, more than 25,000 people nationwide overdosed on opioids like fentanyl, oxycodone and hydrocodone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Arizona, last year, 790 people died from overdoses of prescription opioids and heroin, according to reporting by The Republic’s Ken Alltucker. That was a 74 percent increase since 2012.
Deaths from heroin – the evil emperor of street drugs – tripled in that time and now account for 39 percent of the opioid deaths.
Experts suggest people who became addicted to prescription opioids are turning to heroin.
Let's look at the individuals who use the drugs.
It’s hard to blame someone who became addicted to the opioids a doctor prescribed after surgery. But continued use becomes opioid abuse, and that is a choice.
We aren’t supposed to say things like that these days. People cling to their victimhood. There’s a derogatory label for expecting people to take personal responsibility for what happens to them. Doing so is derided as “shaming.”
We need to ask the big questions about our culture.
What do young people seek in heroin? Data from Arizona suggests the heroin overdose rate is higher for teens and young adults, who either underestimate the danger or accept the risk for the sake of escaping a life that is apparently unfulfilling without dangerous intoxicants.
Where was the breakdown in shared moral responsibility that contributed to the prescription opioid crisis?
Where are the social, emotional, faith, family and economic safety nets that people can depend on?
The opioid abuse and overdose epidemic is more than a medical or public-health crisis. It is a symptom of a society that is failing its members.
It is a crisis in which people are apparently so disconnected from a meaningful life that they give themselves to addictive drugs.
We can and should treat the symptoms of this opioid-abuse epidemic. We also need to do some soul-searching about the causes.
Arizona Republic, June 3, 2017