Simply labeling the opioid epidemic won’t solve the problem

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As the scale of one of the most deadly health epidemics in the United States grew, our country more or less stayed silent on the matter.

The opioid death tolls rival the peak of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and yet even the general public was more aware of the effects of AIDS than the dangers poised by medicine their doctors prescribe them.

Painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone, in addition to non-prescribed opiates like heroin, are all complicit in the rising fatalities associated with the opioid crisis.

The relatively rural Butler county in Ohio experienced a historic precedent in which opioid overdoses exceeded homicides, suicides and traffic deaths combined, according to a June 28 article from USAToday.

President Trump brought the issue to attention and offered some useful pointers at an Oct. 26 ceremony in the White House Rose Garden where he labeled the opiod epidemic a “public health crisis.” 

Trump suggested we could prevent addiction with “really great advertising,” producing non-addictive painkillers and a law enforcement campaign against imports of the synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

But Trump’s words are not enough.

The actual budget afforded to the fund for public health emergencies is just $56,000, according to an Oct. 30 article from the Guardian. But opioid addiction costs an estimated $75 billion a year and Trump hasn’t requested any additional funding.

As comedian John Oliver put it last week, “Trump has finally chimed in with his two cents.”

Unfortunately, Oliver meant that rather literally.

More than 2.6 million people are affected by opioids, according to a 2016 study from the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

With that $56,000 budget, just two cents could be designated to each person suffering from opioid addiction.

This is unacceptable, but turning the tide is possible.

Opioid use disorder can be effectively treated. The U.S. Surgeon General said only about 1 in 10 Americans with a substance use disorder receive treatment.

The United States must begin a dedicated effort to deliver effective treatment if we ever hope to stop this death toll.

Even though it didn’t garner the same amount of news coverage as Trump’s, an important statement was made last week by Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“Given the scale of the epidemic, with millions of Americans already affected, prevention is not enough,” Gottlieb said. “We must also help those who are suffering from addiction by expanding access to lifesaving treatment.”

This signifies an important shift in attitude from the powers that be.

If this trend continues, it means enough of the talking heads in our government who are actually concerned with the health of their constituents could get together and solve the problem with more than just “really tough, really big, really great advertising.”

In other words, we can’t let this be the next “Just Say No” campaign. 

Taylor Tomaszewski is a business economics major and  can be reached at taylor.tomaszewski@jacks.sdstate.edu.

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