The National Institute of Health says that on average, 130 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose. 130 x 365 = 47, 450 deaths per year. Each such death is a tragedy, but is it the hair-on-fire crisis of our time? I think not. I say this not because I love death but because I think the current opioid uproar is overblown. We have only to compare other deadly sins to see why I say this.
Big tobacco still legally brings an early demise to ten times more victims than the dreaded opioids claim. According to CDC statistics, smoking kills about 1,300 Americans each day, for a total of 480,000 per year. Why do we not legislate against those deaths? Tobacco’s nicotine is more addictive than heroin or any opioid, but it’s grandfathered into our culture.
Then there’s alcohol. I’ve never smoked, but I did have to kick an alcohol habit. I realized that booze was beginning to destroy my life and would have carried me to an untimely death had I not quit drinking. The Center for Disease Control tells us that 88,000 in the USA and nearly 3 million globally die each year prematurely due to alcohol. Again, we tolerate a highly addictive drug but grandfathered into cultures all around the world.
We tried prohibition with alcohol. We know prohibition doesn’t work. It breeds organized crime and bootlegging operations. Uncontrolled and uninspected bathtub gin kills users at a far higher rate than do legally produced and marketed drugs.
Since opioids kill far fewer of us than legal drugs like nicotine and alcohol, why are we going yet again down the prohibition path we know leads to disaster? Why not just let adults choose their poison and live (or not) with the consequences? We live in a world where people desire drugs, and criminals are happy to fill that desire if prohibition provides them the market. I submit that, instead of trying a ban, we could help many more live by early education on the risks of addictive drugs of all kinds. Teach kids what psychology has learned about why some people feel a need to self-medicate. Tell them how to mitigate that need in more positive ways than getting stinking drunk or passing out from a fentanyl overdose when you happen to be on a busy highway.
For the sake of my aching back.
In closing, I need to disclose that I do have an ax to grind in this fight. I’m what’s called a spoonie, a sufferer of chronic and sometimes extreme pain. I’ve used Oxycodone successfully since it first came on the market to manage the pain when it became severe. I never got addicted because I knew from the beginning that the threat of addiction was there, and addiction could ruin my life. My doctor’s now afraid to prescribe any more Oxycodone for me, and I am dreading the next pinched nerve when my osteoarthritis acts up again. Without a powerful pain killer to nip it in the bud, the pain starts muscle spasms in my back. Those spasms amplify the pain until standing, sitting, and even lying in bed all day are sheer agony. Without the opioids, it can take a week or more to get back to normal. Treat me at least as fairly as the drinkers and smokers among us.