Curbing The Opioid Epidemic

By Chuck Norris

November 3, 2017 6 min read

As mentioned last week, the obesity epidemic affects us all, from the individual to society. According to research by the World Obesity Federation, in 2014 the U.S. paid $325 billion per year to treat cancers, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and other health issues linked to being severely overweight or obese. Unless significant action is taken to address the epidemic, this figure is expected to reach $555 billion by 2025. The study concludes that, between 2017 and 2025, the total expenditure for health care in America for obesity-related illness could reach as high as $4.2 trillion.

As we have learned recently, it is not the only epidemic we need to get ahead of as a society.

In a speech on October 26, the president declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency. Though different than declaring a national state of emergency in terms of scale and resources, declaring the opioid problem a national emergency expands the availability of federal funding. It also frees up public health workers to address the issue and directs all federal agencies to use their authority to cut the numbers of opioid deaths in this country.

It is not often that a public health emergency is declared in this country. The United States Department of Health and Human Services declared one in Puerto Rico last year in relation to the outbreak of 10,000 Zika cases. Before that, the last emergency declaration unrelated to a natural disaster was during the 2009-10 flu season, when widespread concern over a potential pandemic began to surface.

Experts believe the public health emergency declaration is a vital and long-overdue part of the battle against America's opioid problem; one that has escalated to staggering numbers during the last two decades. The Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis describes the scale of opioid deaths as equivalent to the September 11 terrorist attacks happening every three weeks in this country.

Reports such as one released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the latest to show why many believe the nation's current drug epidemic to be the deadliest in U.S. history. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled since 1999, a period in which the number of opioid prescriptions in this country has also quadrupled. It is hoped that this action can bring about a unifying and nonpartisan way to finding solutions to the problem.

A federal report points to the powerful painkiller fentanyl as involved in more than half of the recent opioid overdose deaths in the 10 hardest hit states. Fentanyl is a far more potent opioid than heroin — 50 to 100 times stronger says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. According to a CBS News report, China is suspected of being a major source of illegal fentanyl and related drugs flooding the U.S. market. Yet experts no longer agree that the epidemic is just about prescription opioids. States have been successful at dispensing fewer prescription opioids, we are told, but this does not help the nearly 2.6 million Americans already addicted, or the 329,000 who report currently using heroin.

"In the last several years, US life expectancy has actually declined, not because of cardiac disease or cancer or an incurable new virus, but because of opioid overdose," Dr. Halena Gazelka, an anesthesiologist who chairs the Mayo Clinic's Opioid Stewardship Program tells CBS News.

Last year, more than 50,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. The largest annual jump ever recorded. Current evidence suggests the problem is even worse this year.

"Prioritizing this national crisis will bring much-needed resources to communities, improve access to services and facilitate better coordination among government agencies," believes Jessica Hulsey Nickel, the president and chief executive of the Addiction Policy Forum, a nonprofit organization that works to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic.

Yet, like the obesity epidemic in this country, there are more than a few obstacles ahead. When it comes to addressing this crisis, in the past policies have infrequently aligned with addiction science. While there is major agreement within the medical community that treatment works, the cost for treatment is spiraling out of sight for most folks. In 2015, only 11 percent of people who needed addiction treatment received it.

A recent nationwide study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society points out that, in 2009, the average cost of care per admission was about $58,000. By 2015, the cost had risen to about $92,000. Today it would cost us more than $600 million to treat the more than 100,000 people in this country who are addicted to opioids.

There also remains an entrenched belief that people who choose to use drugs are a product of some moral failing on their part - a prejudice which the President could certainly help dispel.

The recommendation that the opioid epidemic be declared a public health emergency was adopted by a special presidential commission in late July. The opioid commission's final recommendations following the President's remarks have not been released as yet.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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