America’s Opioid Crisis: One Nation, Overdosed!

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By ALBERT BALDEO

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” – Muhammad Ali

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), show that 64,070 people died from drug overdoses in 2016. This represents a staggering 21 percent increase from the year before, and confirm that more Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 than the number of American lives lost in the entirety to the Vietnam War-which totaled 58,200! Often unnoticed as a silent epidemic on account of the headline grabbing nature of its sensational rivals, drug related calamities cannot be swept under the rug any longer.

The opioid epidemic ravaging the United States is taking a grim and growing toll. Its horrible effects spares no family in America, rich or poor, black or white, and are not restricted by any boundaries. All of us are in this, together. Indeed, last year’s 64,070 drug fatalities far outnumbered:
-The 35,092 motor vehicle deaths in 2015.
-AIDS-related deaths in the worst year of the AIDS crisis, when 50,628 people died in 1995.
-The peak year for homicides in the U.S., when 24,703 people were murdered in 1991.
-Suicides, which have been rising in the U.S. for nearly 30 years and totaled 44,193 in 2015.

Approximately 75% of all drug overdose deaths are now caused by opioids, a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers as well as heroin and potent synthetic versions, like fentanyl. Data also show that overdoses of synthetic drugs, such as fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times stronger than the painkiller morphine, are driving the sharp increases in opioid overdose deaths.

A new report from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), an independent research organization that focuses on “critical issues in policing,” puts those numbers into context. Statistics point to the fact that the opioid crisis is fueled by the drug industry and Congress’s failure to do enough, as the epidemic continues to spiral out of control. The CDC identified 15,466 deaths from heroin overdoses in 2016, while 20,145 deaths were caused by fentanyl or other synthetic opioids.

Additionally, a survey conducted by PERF of its member police chiefs earlier this year found half of the respondents reported an increase in fatal heroin overdoses in their jurisdiction in 2016 compared to 2015, and 45 percent reported an increase in drug overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl during that time. Twenty-three percent reported an increase in fatal overdoses due to prescription opioid medications.

This is consistent with research suggesting that many people who become addicted to prescription painkillers often become victims to heroin or synthetic opioids when it becomes too difficult to obtain or too expensive to keep obtaining prescription pills.

“60 Minutes” and the Washington Post recently highlighted how an act of Congress helped fuel the epidemic of addiction in a joint investigation recently. Whistleblowers revealed how the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016, which was unanimously approved, derailed DEA efforts to crack down on suspect pharmacies that are distributing millions of pills in ravaged communities.

It is mandatory that law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies, public health departments, drug treatment and social service providers, elected officials, and others, step up and coordinate their efforts to prevent new cases of opioid addiction, while providing addicted persons with medical and social services through the long and difficult process of getting free of the drug scourge.

This is a national crisis which must be addressed immediately!

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Editor’s Note: Albert Baldeo is community advocate and President of the Baldeo Foundation and Queens Justice Center. He can be contacted at the Baldeo Foundation: (718) 529-2300. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.

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