U.S. Surgeon General describes the widespread impact of the opioid epidemic
There is no question that the opioid epidemic affecting America is taking a huge toll on the nation’s health and lives, but U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams says it is also having a pronounced effect on the economy.
“The facts are that seven out of 10 of our young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are ineligible to serve in the military because of poor health or the inability to pass a physical,” Adams said Wednesday during a forum in Sugar Grove that focused on drug addiction. “Employers continue to tell us they can’t find enough workers to fill their positions because they can’t pass the drug tests, so the problems in this country are not just affecting our health.”
Speaking at Waubonsee Community College, Adams explained that the opioid crisis has had an effect on almost everyone in the country in some way or another. For him, the toll was personal.
“I have a brother who is currently serving 10 years in prison because he stole $200 to support his addiction,” Adams said. “It will cost about $1 million to keep him in prison, but he’ll get no treatment. We have to give law officials more than just the ‘hammer’ because then everything just looks like a nail.”
While there are many factors contributing to the ongoing epidemic, Adams said one of the biggest issues is the stigmatization and unwillingness to face the reality of opioids.
“A stigma exists everywhere among the medical profession, the law, and society in general,” he told the crowd before noting that drug addiction is “a disease, not a moral failing.”
He also pointed to the widespread use of pills as normalizing pills in general, saying, “kids reach for pills in their grandmother’s medicine cabinet today like people did for a beer decades ago.”
“The facts are that four out of five individuals that do injection drugs started with pills,” he said.
Despite the severe tone, Adams indicated that local efforts to decrease overdose deaths related to opioids are working. Particularly, he celebrated the increasing prevalence of naloxone, a fast-acting drug capable of reviving many who have stopped breathing after taking opioids.
Naloxone is obviously more of a band-aid than a long-term strategy for treating the opioid epidemic, but Adams described it as a vital first step that could save millions of lives.