The years 2017 and 2018 have been the years of Trump, of North Korean issues and of countless political scandals. But they have also been the years of the opioid crisis. We’ve all heard about it and most of us have some kind of direct experience with it. But the issue goes much deeper than that and it’s a problem that seems to be uniquely American.
Why the United States has a Problem
To understand why this is such a big issue in the US when it is not in other countries, you have to understand how we differ.
Let’s take the UK as an example, because they’re our cousins and because they have laws similar to what you will find across Europe, as well as in Australia and New Zealand. In the UK, you are not allowed to advertise prescription drugs on television, or anywhere else for that matter.
The doctors will still push them on you if you go for an appointment, but because you have no idea what they are, there is very little demand for them from the customer’s point of view. Advertising creates a need. If we see a commercial that tells us how a miracle drug can cure us of an ailment and how we only need to ask our doctor for it, then that’s what we’re going to do. If we see no such commercial, we have no such issues.
The second major issue is the fact that the pharmaceutical industry is driven by profit and makes no attempt to hide this. In the UK there is their National Health Service, which offers free healthcare. If you have no job, are disabled, are a pensioner or get support from the state, then you don’t need to pay for your prescription. And even if you do, the NHS ensures that the costs are low, because they are the ones setting them, not the pharmaceutical industry.
If you get a prescription that you have to pay for and the medications are very expensive, it’s the NHS who foots most of the bill. It’s a unique situation in which an OTC brand name product can be three or four times more expensive than the prescription version. In the US, everyone is driven by profit, from the people manufacturing the drugs, to the ones selling them and pushing them.
Doctors get rewarded for pushing highly addictive opiate drugs onto their patients, the manufacturers get a huge bonus for selling them and everyone wins. Except for the patient, who now has a serious opioid addiction to deal with.
How Deep Is It?
The inherent problems in this country have created a unique mindset amongst American citizens. We see prescription medications as the answer to many of our problems and we’re happy to take them whatever the risk.
In the United States drugs like are bought freely online by students, who also buy Adderall and even meth, all to help with their studies. Housewives see drugs like Xanax and Valium as a clear solution to the stresses of modern life, while anyone who has ever struggled to sleep for more than a night or two has considered the possibility of Ambien. We see them as the solution to problems that most people have. The pharmaceutical industry has turned us into a nation that is always looking for a quick-fix, regardless of the cost.
For some of us, these quick fixes are fine. The average person really will only use opioids for a few weeks. They really will only need sleeping tablets for a week or benzodiazepines for a month and they will be fixed and “normal” after that. These people exist, sure, but a huge percentage of the population will not be “fixed” after short-term use, they will not be side-effect free and they will not stop at just 2 to 4 weeks of use.
As you see here, everyone’s genetics are vastly different and some of us may actually be programmed in a way that makes us susceptible to addiction. You can’t expect the industry to know a person’s genetics, but you can expect them to know a person’s history, yet doctors still prescribe drugs to active addicts and to people with a history of abuse and all of the hallmarks of an addictive personality. It’s proof that they are putting money before the well-being of a patient, which goes against everything they are supposed to do.
Will it Change?
Now that the country has woken up to the problem, we might finally start seeing some action. Lawyers across the US are creating specialized branches to help doctors under investigation by the DEA and many doctors are desperately clinging to their business and reputation.
It has been predicted that the opioid crisis will take half a million lives in the next ten years and because it will cost so much money to fix, as well as taking money away from the ones in power, it’s not something that will be remedied in a hurry.
Rehab clinics can help and these days insurance covers such a service, but with the changes in healthcare looming it seems likely that millions of at-risk Americans will be without health insurance, which means they will be incapable of getting the help they need.
Whatever the solution is, it seems highly likely that it will get a lot worse before it gets better. Some experts believe that 10 years from now we will see more deaths per year from opioid abuse than we will from gun crime. To put that in perspective, the United States has the highest gun crime in the developed world, which means we’re just stacking one big issue onto another and hoping they will go away without actually doing anything about them.