In 2014, over 47,000 Americans died from drug overdose. This shocking and tragic figure dealt a hard blow to the morale of the prevention movement; however, it also created an increased sense of urgency and mobilization among many. As it turns out, this sense of urgency wasn’t enough and the country saw even higher rates of drug overdose deaths in 2015, 52,404 to be exact, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Once again, there was widespread outrage and a collective lamenting of the American drug epidemic in all corners of the country, and once again, according to preliminary figures, these lamentations fell on def ears as drug overdose deaths have risen.
The Department of Justice reports that not only were there more fatal drug overdoses than ever in 2016 (nearly 60,000 according to early figures), but that this year also saw the largest annual increase in American history. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein spoke with members of the Drug Enforcement Agency on Tuesday and, among other chilling statistics, disclosed that on an average day, 90 Americans will die from an opioid-related overdose. The question is: Are these numbers finally enough to get serious about prevention, education and treatment or are we destined for another year of lip-service with comparatively limited action?
Are We Spending Money on the Right Things?
Deputy AG Rosenstein delivers these drug overdose numbers at a time in which his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is looking ramp up the war on drugs, a decision toward which the addiction treatment community and public health experts alike have expressed concern. Many believe that this enforcement-first approach has done little to curb the flow of illegal drugs or recreational prescription opioids abuse, but rather has fragmented families and community life among vulnerable populations. It’s worth taking a look at the annual Federal Drug Control Budget and identifying where the money’s going. Funds allocated toward treatment have been rising steadily since 2008, but appear to once again be on the decline in FY 2018. With treatment resources already scarce, at least in comparison to the scope of the demand, many are justifiably worried they will become even more inaccessible.
A Balanced Approach
Treatment and enforcement must be administered in equal measure; the former focusing on addicts and the latter focusing on dealers and manufacturers. Drug overdose deaths will likely continue to rise if we don’t start taking seriously the urgent public health issue before us. With anti-drug efforts so closely tied to politics, it’s difficult to determine how effective they will be in the months and years to come. We can, however, take care of ourselves and others in our community. Prevention begins at the grassroots level and we are more powerful than we realize in keep drugs out of our homes and neighborhoods.