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Opioid crisis warrants immediate action

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Opioid painkiller medication has ultimately started the deadliest drug crisis in American history. Opioid drugs are classified as drugs that block out the feeling of pain to the opioid receptors in the brain, giving off a morphine-like effect to those who use it. These drugs were marketed to help people who suffer from chronic pain. Back in the 90’s, drug companies such as Purdue Pharma, ran advertisements to represent the Physicians For Responsible Opioid Prescribing and guaranteed that these opioid painkillers were safer and less addictive than other painkillers on the market. However, in 2007 Purdue Pharma paid 600 million dollars for making these false claims. Now we are aware that these drugs are, in fact, highly addictive and lead to overdoses.

Overdoses have now become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 according to a study done by the New York Times. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 64,000 Americans died from opioid drug overdoses in 2016. Today, there are 20 million Americans (and their families) living with an addiction problem. Over 300 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers were written in 2015 according to Mizuho Securities USA, and that number is growing.

Back in March, President Donald Trump created a commission designed to help fix the opioid crisis. On August 10th, Trump said the opioid problem was a “national emergency,” saying it was a ”serious problem the likes of which we have never had.” The president’s announcement manifested a shift in the way the administration views certain drug users. Instead of viewing these drug addicts as criminals that deserve scorn and incarceration, they are being viewed as “patients” in need of our help and understanding.

Because this crisis has disproportionately affected white Americans, white lawmakers (who take up the majority of all levels of the government) are coming into contact with people afflicted by the opioid epidemic, while the disproportionately black drug users who suffered during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s are being swept under the rug.

During the crack epidemic in the late 1980s, the perceived user and trafficker of crack was young, black and intimidating. However, a majority of crack users around this time were white, and most drug users bought their drugs from dealers within their own racial group. In 1986, harsh laws were passed on crack cocaine that stated those convicted in federal court of possession of five grams of crack cocaine must receive a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison. In 1992, more than 80 percent of those sentenced under these laws were black according to a study by Families Against Mandatory Minimums. While the use of crack among whites was acknowledged, newspaper articles sympathetically detailed the situation concerning white middle-class crack users. Crack was seen as a part of the stressful white professional’s lifestyle.

So why don’t pharmaceutical companies stop using pain killers with opioids? It’s complicated. Despite their addictiveness, opioids are a vital component of modern medicine. These drugs have improved the quality of life for millions of people that suffer from chronic pain.

Last week, a story put out by the New York Times stated that insurers are being caught limiting access to pain medications that carry a lower risk of addiction. Insurers are beginning to stop covering less risky pain relievers and switching clients over to addictive, long-acting morphine all due to the fact that opioid drugs are generally cheap while safer alternatives are often more expensive.

As this crisis rages on, it seems that it is easier for most patients to get opioids than treatment for addiction.

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Opioid crisis warrants immediate action