The Opioid epidemic, which easily drifts from the public spotlight, continues to rage on.

But as shameful and devastating as it is, it’s only one aspect of America’s drug woes.

Of course, drug addiction has been around for as long as anyone can remember.

But media reports last week dropped a bomb: the median life-expectancy of Americans has gone down for the first time since World War I.

World War I ended a little over a century ago.  Since that time, Americans lived longer, and lifespans rose steadily, without dip, for about 100 years.

World War II, the Vietnam War, the various flu epidemics, AIDS, nothing could stem the rising survival rate of the people of the United States of America.

Until recently, that is.

NPR reported:  “For the second time in three years, life expectancy in the U.S. has ticked downward. In three reports issued Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laid out a series of statistics that revealed some troubling trend lines — including rapidly increasing rates of death from drug overdoses and suicide.

“CDC Director Robert Redfield described the data as ‘troubling.’

“‘Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,’ he said in a statement released Thursday.

“Redfield tied the drop in overall life expectancy, which averaged 78.6 years in 2017, a decrease of 0.1 from the year before, to the rise in deaths from overdose and suicide.”

“Troubling” wouldn’t be the word I’d use.  “Catastrophic” would be my choice.

Suicides pushed the yearly death totals up by over 50,000 last year.

Numbers can be pretty clinical.  Let’s compare that figure to actual people.  Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles has a capacity of 56,000.  

So, picture a crowd of about this size, and that’s the number of people who succeeded in killing themselves last year.
Baseball fan or not, that’s horrendously unacceptable.

Rolling Stone magazine, not exactly the authority on drug abuse, pointed out the bright side on the opioid front:

“The silver lining is that while overdose deaths are still climbing, the rate of increase is slowing down, compared to the 21-percent increase between 2015 and 2016. This could mean that harm reduction initiatives, like increasing the awareness and availability of naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose, are starting to work.”

Sounds encouraging.  Let’s unpack that.

This Naloxone, “that reverses the effects of opioid overdose” is being touted as a panacea.  But it’s also a drug, right?

(By the way, drugs are basically toxins.  That’s why they have side effects.  Side effects are not “maybe effects”, rather, they are “probably effects.”  You’re going to get one or more of them.)

Some of the “probably effects” of Narcan, the brand name of Naloxone that is being touted by even the U.S. Surgeon General as a great solution for opioid and heroin overdoses, are:

High or low blood pressure
Cardiac arrhythmias
Pulmonary edema
Abnormal brain function
Coma, and

So the “good news” is, drug overdoses might be curbed by drugs that keep the patient alive with a drug that might kill them later, or at least make them really sick.

Drugs to treat the symptoms caused by other drugs.  What could possibly go wrong?

How many Americans are using opioids today?  According to the CDC, in 2017 “almost 58 opioid prescriptions written for every 100 Americans.”
So, more than half of the people in the country are using a dangerous, highly addictive drug. 

(I can’t find a photo of a stadium big enough to hold that many people, even at NASCAR, but you get the idea.)

The opioid crisis, which I first read about in FREEDOM magazine, was so flabbergasting that I felt compelled to write a screenplay about it which later became Son To Son, directed by Taron Lexton.

The situation is so much larger than I initially realized, and that families in this country, under stress from economics, downsizing and other challenges, have been massively affected by it, even more than cancer, war or other “traditional” causes of death.

What can one do about it?

Well, many years ago, surgeons and doctors didn’t see the need to wash their hands before procedures.  Really.

Eventually, once the public realized about bacteria and the spread of disease, they wouldn’t put up with going to a hospital whose staff didn’t believe in providing sanitary conditions.  Doctors with dirty hands either scrubbed or were scrubbed.

The same evolution is needed about the use of powerful, addictive painkillers. EVERYONE needs to get onboard.

People on opioids need to get weaned off of them under medical care.  That’s not going to be easy, but it’s probably easier than dying.  

And we all need to continue to educate ourselves about drugs, what they are, how they operate and what alternatives exist.  

Just knowing non-drug alternatives do exist will perhaps be the first step for many.

Awareness is the virtue we can seldom do without.