The worst part is, we let it get worse because it’s profitable for a few
The opioid crisis makes our other economic crises even worse: the rise of automation, stagnant wages, and our inability to give ourselves affordable health care. So it not only causes massive suffering for addicts and their families, friends, and employers, it hurts everyone. Almost everyone.
Start with this horrifying new normal, from a post by LinkedIn Managing Editor Chip Cutter:
The U.S. tops the world in drug deaths; in 2015, more people died from overdoses — with two thirds involving an opioid — than from car accidents or gun violence.
Over 50,000 deaths. Seventeen 9-11s a year. The people dying aren’t just “those people”: low-income, low-education, living in ghettos or trailer parks, wearing t-shirts and whatever’s on sale at Walmart or TJ Maxx to places where “nice” people wear designer polos and slim-fit khakis and midi skirts. If they even go to the same places anymore.
No, opioid addicts are just as likely to live in nice suburbs and gentrified urban enclaves. They drink lattes and sport hipster beards and have Kate Spade bags and 401ks—or they did until the money and hope ran out. Upper middle class, solidly Republican places like DuPage County, Illinois, where I live, are facing what doctors are calling an “epidemic.”
So much potential happiness lost. Those are 50,000 families; 50,000 neighborhoods; 50,000 workplaces that could have had a productive, creative member. Since opioids contribute to ailments like heart disease, many of those deaths are part of the toll as well.
Then there’s the cold economic toll: 50,000 taxpayers lost; 50,000 expensive medical bills; 50,000 debts defaulted on; 50,000 police and ambulance dispatches, coroner exams, and funerals.
Employers, especially in manufacturing, simply can’t find people who can do the work:
Some business owners say they’re fed up. In Virginia Beach, Va., where William W. Warwick IV owns a roofing company in his name, “it’s impossible to find qualified applicants who are sober, have their life together,” Warwick said, citing alcoholism as his company’s particular challenge.
He says he typically must go through about 100 applicants to hire for one position. The job market is so tight — a factor he attributed, in part, to the opioid epidemic taking qualified workers out of the labor pool — that “it’s almost like trying to find a star athlete,” he said. “For roofers. We’re talking about roofers!”
Some are coping by hiring the very people we show contempt for: refugees, immigrants, and recovering addicts themselves:
In response to the crisis, some companies are being forced to get creative. Dianne Porter, the president and CEO of metal fabricator Zeyon in Erie, Pa., turns to international agencies that work with refugees. Others are going out of their way to hire those with addictions.
Brian Howard, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor and the founder of OneLife Treatment in Edmond, Okla. said local landscaping firms and retailers in his area will typically employ those in recovery. He stresses that former addicts make excellent employees. “Willpower is never the issue for an addict. Watch an addict work when they don’t have something they need. Tell me it’s willpower. That’s not the issue,” he said. “And when that’s turned the right direction, it’s amazing.”
Unfortunately, the fact remains that compassion for recovering addicts and refugees is nice and all, but it may just be cheaper to get a robot.
Follow the money: to dark places and back
The supply chain that brings the heroin to that tree-lined cul-de-sac in Naperville or Downer’s Grove stretches back to Sinaloa or Guerrero, Mexico, where multi-billion-dollar gangs control governments and murder people with impunity. Or it starts in the opium poppy fields of Afghanistan, where warlords of the Taliban, the government, ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Pakistan’s ISI share the most lucrative drug operation in the region’s history. We fund our own terrorists and in return, they sell us disease, death, and weakness.
The larger tragedy is that millions more lose the lives they could have lived if they’d found help instead of a dealer or doctor willing to blindly prescribe. And millions more have their quality of life compromised because they are the spouse or parent or child or friend or co-worker of an addict.
If you think you don’t know someone with or close to an addiction problem, you do. We all do. That’s why forgiveness and compassion and common-sense medical care are the solution, not jail and shame.
We already jail more of our people than any other country. And the cost to jail a drug user is more than the cost to treat him. Why do we do it? Because for-profit prison companies make money from the War on Drugs. The rest of us subsidize them.
Those private prison corporations donated heavily to the Trump campaign. So it’s no wonder Attorney General Jeff Sessions is trying to restart the War on Drugs.
We don’t need a new War on Drugs. We need a war on what makes people take drugs.
And let’s be clear about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s other reason for renewing the War on Drugs, besides profit for his friends. It’s a way to keep blacks (and other troublemakers) in their place, both here and abroad. That, according to Nixon aide John Erlichmann, is why it was started. After Obama, that’s a priority.
If Sessions really wanted to fight drug abuse, the overwhelming evidence shows the only effective policy is to treat addiction as a disease. Just ask Portugal. They decriminalized drugs and switched to medical treatment 15 years ago and now hardly anyone dies from overdose. And drug use has declined steadily. That’s why this is a self-inflicted wound. We don’t have to live this way.
Pres. Trump put his son-in-law Jared Kushner in charge of solving the opioid crisis. He also appointed a commission that includes part-time New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Kellyanne Conway, for no discernible reason. So far they’ve had “listening sessions” and announced plans to write a report.
Actually, there already is a report, by the last Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy. Unfortunately, Vice-Admiral Murthy was relieved of his post in April, in part for making the outrageous claim that gun violence was a threat to public health. His replacement hasn’t been appointed yet.
Meanwhile, Jared’s on it. However, the president has also put him in charge of a few other things: Middle East peace, reinventing government, reforming the Veteran’s Affairs department, reforming the criminal justice system, and relations with China, Mexico, and the Muslim community.
But for thirty minutes every other Tuesday, we can be sure he’s focused like a laser beam on the opioid epidemic. Unless he’s busy testifying to Congress about his contacts with Russians prior to the election. Or trying to get a Chinese company to help his family with the $1.1 billion of debt on his struggling 666 Park Avenue building.
Meanwhile, the GOP is determined to cut Medicaid, which pays for the treatment of hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from one of America’s deadliest diseases.
The economic hell this epidemic could create for the US economy and its workers is easy to grasp if you remember one fact: Robots don’t get addicted to opioids.