(Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
When I am doing research for an upcoming blog post, I can get lost. There is so much information now on drug addiction and the opioid epidemic that I suddenly look at the clock and realize I’ve been wandering virtually around the world and becoming more discouraged with each new article or report: Scotland has more drug overdose deaths per capita than any European country (1); Fentanyl is flooding California with overdose deaths skyrocketing (2); the use of over-the-counter codeine (an opiate) cough medicine among eighth graders in the US has increased (3); and, Australia now has the eighth-highest per-capita opioid consumption in the world (4).
Gathering statistics is important for many reasons. When we look back with clear eyes at the broad picture of what has happened for any health and wellness issue, we are able to then project more accurately what is likely to happen in the future. That is, of course, unless there is some intervention or diversion. Perusing the current reports doesn’t give one much hope for a decrease in drug or alcohol addiction – or any addiction, for that matter.
Thankfully, after two decades into the opioid epidemic, there is increasing awareness and public knowledge which has led to more information, recovery programs, therapeutic treatments, podcasts, books, etc. But I think we have become a society that just expects there to be a pill or treatment for any disease we develop or problem that we get ourselves into and so we don’t live our lives as carefully as we could.
If we could look ahead and anticipate a problem, we would be able to spend our resources on prevention instead of on implementing treatments. Bill Gates said, “Treatment without prevention is simply unsustainable.” He is absolutely correct. We will not treat our way out of the opioid epidemic. We must focus more energy on prevention. John and I live in Australia part of the year with our daughter and family. Our granddaughters are a strong incentive for us to be involved with the drug and alcohol prevention efforts there. I did a radio interview (YouTube link below) on Big Life Conversation (94.1 fm Melbourne)where my hosts and I discussed Opiate Nation.
During the conversation I expressed my concern for Australia and the likelihood of their following in the footsteps of the US opioid crisis and how they seem to be about 10 years behind. I was wrong. Looking at more recent statistics, they are, sadly, not far behind. They continue to have a higher rate of alcohol addiction but the over-prescribing of opioid pain medications has increased and only recently received attention. There is a growing realization that Australia is on the cusp of its own opioid epidemic. And, not surprisingly, Purdue Pharma is culpable here as well as in the States. In 1998 they brought their deceptive marketing campaign for Oxycontin in under their AU arm, Mundipharma. Eleven members of the Sackler family were on the board from 1998-2012 (5).
What can be done to help prevent more ruined lives and unnecessary deaths? I know that educating parents and young people alike with the truth about drugs is a good place to start, along with help for how to resist the magnetic pull of peer-pressure – which is the biggest risk factor for adolescent drug experimentation. Education for practitioners to counterbalance the intentionally inaccurate drug company marketing campaigns which have led to the overprescribing of opioids and benzodiazepines. Educating policy makers to bring recognition to the public health aspect of addiction and enacting laws to reduce overprescribing of addictive drugs. The Rethink Addiction campaign in Australia is working toward these goals.
Albert Einstein said “Intellectuals solve problems – geniuses prevent them.” We need to be tapping into creative thinkers, especially young people, who know their generation and how to best influence their peers, for they are our future.