Two Princeton economists startled Americans recently when they discovered that between 1999 and 2013, white, middle-aged, high-school-educated men in the United States died at an increasing rate from prescription and illegal drug overdose, alcohol and liver-related disease and suicide. Fortunately there is the impression that government and media are paying attention to this national epidemic. Earlier this month, President Obama announced his plans to invest more than $1.1 billion over the next two years to expand access to treatment for abuse of heroin and other drugs, avail the overdose-reversal drug naloxone to first responders, and support targeted enforcement activities. Also Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), revising punitive drug policies, promoting best medical practices and strengthening data sharing among states’ prescription drug monitoring programs.
The Princeton study also forces us to recognize that drug abuse is not, as previously thought, a malady afflicting only poor, minority, inner-city communities, but rather is an across-the-country phenomenon, affecting in particular rural white adults. Interestingly, as the mortality trend demonstrates, the under-treatment of pain in minorities has inadvertently ‘protected’ them from overdose, reducing a decades-long death-rate gap between whites and non-whites. But will increased access to care for those already harmed by addiction; addressing the enduring shortfalls in prescriber education; and research for alternative abuse-deterrent medications actually reverse this deadly epidemic?
I think not.
Turns out the overdose epidemic is a social, not just a medical, problem.
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