CDC Reports a Record-Breaking Year for U.S. Overdose Deaths

While the mainstream media tends to focus on the latest hot-button issues, there are much larger issues quietly but significantly impacting our society.

We’ve heard that:

  • Shark attacks are up in the US (53 in 2013, vs. 42 in 2012).
  • Terrorism and mass shootings (or “multi-party shooting incidents”) are responsible for 457 deaths in the US in 2015.

These are, of course, terrible.

Yet, I recently wrote about how the US has over 440,000 deaths per year from hospital errors. These fatalities are 1,000 times worse than those from the mass shooting crisis our nation is facing, and yet I’ve not heard one mention about this in any presidential debate thus far.

Now, we have 47,000 people dying from drug overdoses in a single year according to the CDC’s latest 2014 figures. This problem has an impact 100 times greater than the mass shootings. When you consider that the majority of mass shootings are drug-related (dealer infighting), the issue of drug usage becomes glaringly apparent. When you also consider that these shooting figures do not account for single-incident and police shootings – including the civil unrest caused by the “war on drugs” that is tearing apart the social fabric of areas of our nation – drugs become an even more critical issue.

The comparison to the gangsters and rampant violence in the US during Prohibition (a.k.a, “the war on alcohol”) is an obvious one to me.

If you think that regulations and stricter controls are the answer, consider this: over 50% of all drug overdose deaths result from highly regulated prescription drugs (16,235). That is nearly double those from street heroin (8,257). When you realize that most new heroin users began as prescription opioid abusers, the idea that regulations will assist in solving this problem seems a bit absurd.

I have thought long and hard on this issue.

I hate what addiction does to families and individuals. Just like alcohol, some people can take medications with no adverse impact on their lives, while others have a propensity to addiction. I have experienced addiction problems in my own family, and I would not wish them on anyone.

Still, I am a data guy. If something is not working, and something else would work better, the correct answer seems obvious. I believe our country’s drug problem is a health issue — not a criminal issue. Countries such as Belgium that have shifted focus from prosecution to treatment have seen a significant reduction in both crime and addiction. Likewise, when Portugal addressed their drug crisis by shifting their strategy from punishment to treatment, the country saw drug usage, addiction, health issues, and incarceration rates all decline.

Alex Stevens, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Kent states: “The main lesson to learn – decriminalizing drugs doesn’t necessarily lead to disaster, and it does free up resources for more effective responses to drug-related problems.”

We have seen positive results from the legalization of marijuana in some states in the US, similar to those in the countries mentioned above. This change has certainly not led to any “crisis.”

My conclusion? The best approaches to address and reduce these issues are exactly what Rising is doing today. For example, patients in Rising’s Ultimate early intervention program, whose treatment is overseen by nurse case managers, have experienced very significant decreases in drug and opioid usage.

Our pharmacy review program focuses on long-term usage/addiction and does not cut patients off. Instead, patients are guided through a weaning program to prevent them from moving to harder and even more dangerous drugs.

Our Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) partners also have formularies to prevent unnecessary prescriptions and addiction. Such programs positively impact people’s lives without the need to criminalize behaviors that might lead to jail or violence.

We are having a substantial and lasting impact on society, and these are treatment efforts that we can – and should – be proud of.