Crisis Demands Action Now: Is Half of America High?
- Drug overdoses now kill more Americans than HIV/AIDS did at its peak.
- Nearly 1 in 8 adults in America have an alcohol use disorder.
- 7 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Which topic would you care to discuss? It’s all a crisis. According to the most recent research, our adult nation, across all demographics, is floundering in the midst of a rush to dull our senses to whatever pain we are feeling.
Let’s consider some statistics to try to put this into perspective. Accordingly as of 8/14/17, the population in the United States is estimated at 326,748,414. This population figure is 14.4% people 65 and older (approximately 47 million) with another 66.2% in the 15-64 age group (approximately 216 million). Consider that 1 in 8 with alcohol use disorder means then that approximately 41 million people exceed recommended amounts and are considered high risk drinkers. This month JAMA Psychiatry published a study that stated this increase is 50% more than was reported 10 years ago. The major increases were reported among adults aged 65 and older, African American individuals, and women. These statistics have contributed to an increase in medical conditions for hypertensive emergency room visits, hypertensive morbidity and mortality, death rates from liver cirrhosis, and emergency room visits for falling. Alcohol is the 4th leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It is estimated that 10% of the children live with a parent who abuses alcohol.
Even with these staggering stats, alcohol has transcended into a designer phase. The liquor store or grocery store no longer has a small selection of bourbon, scotch, gin, and vodka. It is filled with multiple flavors and liquor sampling by the shot is a social activity. The same is true for wine. Once reserved for an informed wine sommelier, anyone can research and order wine from wine clubs, online, or at your friendly neighborhood grocery where they may be giving away samples in the aisles. Your home may have a cabinet built to house wine bottles, or you may have a special refrigerator with controlled temperature, or an entire room devoted to the collection of more bottles than you could ever use. Beer sales are decreasing because in the marketing and sales world, there is more money to be made in wine and liquor. Morning talk show hosts, Hoda and Kathie Lee sip their wine at 9 AM and no cooking show will display a set table that does not include wine glasses. Oh, and after dinner, we should have a cigar and a glass of good liquor.
America is in the middle of the deadliest drug crisis ever. Painkillers now kill more Americans than any illegal drug. Why? In the 1990’s there was a serious campaign to alleviate chronic pain for patients. It was led by advocacy groups, the federal government and big pharma.
Doctors were under pressure to treat patients for chronic pain, so they turned to opioid pain killers.
The drug companies said they were safe and less addictive than other pain killers. They recommended using them liberally (1998). This, of course, was not true and companies such as Purdue Pharma paid hundreds of millions in fines over its false claims.
When doctors began pulling back on painkillers, opioid addicts turned to the nearest substitute, heroin. Opioid addicts are 40X more likely to get addicted to heroin. By 2014, heroin overdoses and deaths had gone up 500%. 40% of deaths from drug overdoses were attributed to opioid painkillers. The Obama Administration asked for $1billion in funding for prevention and treatment programs to fight opioid abuse. And President Trump has asked for more funds and has declared a national emergency.
But fundamentally, doctors still need something to treat chronic pain. Doctors are in a bad position. They want to treat pain as a serious medical issue. Patients with chronic pain have not been cured. Some physicians are so scared and strict that patients are being sent home after serious surgeries with ibuprofen and Tylenol for pain relief. It is a ludicrous problem.
And now the drums have started beating for medical marijuana for pain relief with the epitaph “at least it doesn’t kill people”. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. Three other states will soon join that list as their recently passed laws take effect. Seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. It is a complicated web of regulations. But the Colorado example has shown us that opening the door where marijuana is available has not been all positive. Emergency room visits are up, crime has not been eliminated and the Cartels are still in business. The patients who seek and gain relief from their chronic pain still say they cannot function without it. The children with epilepsy who benefit from it are unquestionable. Cancer patients should use it to boost appetite and relieve pain. There are no long term studies about the medical benefits of marijuana and this generation of pot is not like the “Woodstock generation” pot. It can, in some cases be 100X more potent. Second hand smoke can now generate a positive test in the workplace. Estimates are that it takes 40 days to remove it from the body system. This answer could be another failure and the ramifications could be far reaching.
It is time to face some unpopular realities. You cannot fix everything with a pill. An increasing number of patients will have to learn to live with their pain. The answers to medical problems are not always what you want to hear. Changes in activities as we get older become a fact of life.
Drug treatment is expensive and in today’s world, health insurance and the deductibles put treatment out of the reach of many people. And many of the drug treatment facilities are full, especially if they are operated by charities or local governments.
There are no easy answers to any crisis and these major factors rip the fabric of our society.