The year 2016 was the most lethal year for drug overdoses to date, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. And we may find this statistic to be surpassed by 2017 overdose statistics when they are tallied. We know that major cities, such as Boston, saw major increases in drug overdose deaths in 2017 over the prior year.
We first saw overdose deaths surpass breast cancer fatalities in 2016, and as a nation, we’re bracing ourselves for what’s to come. The opioid epidemic is so widespread that it has touched virtually every citizen in the U.S. Just as everyone knows someone who has had cancer, everyone is now coming to know someone who is addicted to opioids. We’re already dealing with the ramifications of the epidemic, and things are going to get worse before it gets better.
Here’s what the current opioid epidemic means for the U.S.:
A larger strain on an already taxed healthcare system
Regardless of your political leanings, you can probably agree that our healthcare system needs work. This is one of the few things in which politicians agree. But amidst policy changes, we’re left to deal with the effects of an increasing number of opioid overdoses.
An overdose is always an emergency situation. When someone enters the emergency room in this condition, the priority is to save their lives. This takes manpower, equipment, and supplies that would have been used to treat another patient.
If the person overdosing doesn’t have adequate insurance coverage, this puts a financial strain on the healthcare system. The average cost to treat an opioid overdose reached $92,400 in 2015, according to a Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center study. Since 2015, drug overdose costs rose 58 percent, which was drastically outpaced the medical inflation rate. We couldn’t have expected such a sharp increase in such a short time, and these unexpected costs are putting a strain on our healthcare system.
The average lifespan is decreasing
For the first time since the 90s, the lifespan of the average American has taken a hit. In the 90s, the average lifespan decreased because of the AIDS epidemic. In 2016, it decreased in part because of drug overdoses. Suicides and obesity also contributed to the average lifespan decrease.
As the opioid epidemic takes more lives, we can only expect that our average lifespan will decrease further. But we’re already scrambling to handle the current situation. So many people are dying that we simply can’t even handle the logistics. In Ohio, they’re using cold storage containers as morgues because the actual morgues are at capacity.
Treatments are evolving
As our hospitals are dealing with more overdose deaths, doctors, nurses and medical staff must find efficient ways of handling the problem. In most cases, this means getting the patient on some sort of medically assisted treatment right away. With the help of medicine, a patient may experience fewer side effects. Fewer side effects not only helps the patient feel more comfortable during withdrawal, but it also means they’ll require less medical attention and monitoring.
A smoother detoxification period may also help the patient remain in recovery. Naturally, the more patients we have in recovery, the fewer chances we have of seeing overdose deaths.
Families are being torn apart
It’s easy to look at the statistics of this health crisis, but it’s entirely different when it touches your life. Every one of the 64 thousand overdose deaths was a person. They had mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles. Many of them were mothers and fathers themselves. This means that children lost parents. Parents lost children. Siblings lost siblings. This type of pain and grieving is immeasurable.
Now, think about how such a tragedy could affect someone. Out of 64 thousand senseless deaths, imagine each had five people in their inner circle. That’s 320,000 Americans mourning the loss of someone important to their lives. These are the people we see every day. Maybe it’s the guy who pours your coffee or the woman who waters the plants at work.
You never know what someone is struggling with beneath the surface, and that’s never been truer than today. With the current opioid epidemic getting worse, it’s more important than ever for us to show empathy and compassion to our fellow human beings.
For decades, Americans have feared the “big C” over virtually any other disease, and that’s mostly because of its prevalence. Now that the opioid epidemic has surpassed breast cancer fatalities, we can only hope that Americans will develop a healthy fear of using opioids.
Unfortunately, the worst of the opioid epidemic may be yet to come. But there is something each of us can do. Bring awareness to the problem, so others aren’t likely to follow this path.