Health Care Healthy Living Reflection

Despair not opioids is killing poor white American men

The news this morning is sobering. Poor, white, middle-aged American men are dying at increasing rates. The report, published in a prestigious medical journal by a recent Nobel Prize winner, has shocked the public health community. It should shock you.

NPR covered the story. So did the NY Times. Twitter is abuzz with the news. One of the authors of the paper likened this trend to HIV/AIDs in the 1990s.

Deeper looks into the data revealed suicide, drug addiction and alcohol-related liver disease were the likely reasons for the rise in deaths.

This is bad. I talk often with emergency room doctors. They have been telling me this stuff for years. “John, the drug problem is different now. No one is immune. It’s everyone, mostly poor white guys in the suburbs.”

We should not make a rookie mistake here. There are many who will see the opioids or the booze as the problem. Get rid of pain pills and heroin, restrict alcohol, and the problem gets better.

That thinking would be a grave mistake. It’s like treating a symptom (fever) rather than the disease (bacteria).

The disease here is despair. I’ve been to these towns in rural Kentucky and Indiana. You can feel it. You can see the utter loss of hope. You can go to the outlet mall off the highway and see bright shiny people in bright shiny SUVs, and then ride 5K into the county, and see the despair.

We need policies that decrease despair, improve opportunity and foster families. If our focus remains only on pain pills, heroin and other drugs, the disease will continue to run amok. It’s like the obesity problem. Blaming McDonalds is the wrong answer.

We can argue about these policies, be they conservative or liberal, but the mistake would be not addressing the root cause.


3 replies on “Despair not opioids is killing poor white American men”

I completely agree. But it’s more expensive and difficult to tailor policies in accordance with this nuanced view. Easier to vilify opioids. We may rely too heavily on them overall, but there are some folks who greatly benefit from them without harm or abuse and who are harmed by the new push to reduce opioid prescriptions.

About despair, a cousin of loneliness which was a major malady reported years ago. Both are the result of an existential crisis exasperated by among other things, alcoholism, drugs and various addictions/abuse. It is the truth struct home about a highly competitive capitalist society run amuck so typically expressed as, “is that all there is?”
I am so grateful to be a retired licensed counselor in spite of living with chronic pain and the stigma associated with pain pills.
Enough said.

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