Issue 52 • Week of January 15, 2023
A new year does not mean a new start for everyone. Three million Americans are addicted to opioids, which was finally declared a national emergency in 2017 two decades after the release of OxyContin. In fact, the opioid epidemic is now the 5th most influential factor on public health.
Opium and its natural derivatives have been used for millennia and were known to be addictive since at least 1683 if not in ancient times. Today, increasingly synthetic opioids have combined with physician incentives, political lobbying, and a depressed region to devastate an entire generation.
Nearly one third of Americans suffer from acute or chronic pain and opioids are the most commonly prescribed analgesic. However, tolerance is reached within days and withdrawal is often severe. One quarter of non-cancer users struggle with addiction so that almost half of Americans know someone who has been addicted to drugs.
The bipartisan Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act was signed last month to bring some help. But the legislation comes too late for the 100,000 Americans who died from an overdose in 2021 alone and is not nearly enough on its own to stop the epidemic.
What are we not learning from the American painkiller addiction crisis of the 19th century?
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