Ethics & Religion
August 10, 2017
The Opioid Crisis: What To Do
By Mike McManus
"Opioid drugs are the leading cause of death of those 50 and under,"
according to Robert DuPont, MD, President of the Institute for Behavior
and Health, who served as the White House Drug Chief in the 1970s. "The
U.S., home to less than 5% of the world's population, consumes about 80%
of the global opioid medicine supply."
DuPont says that only in the United States were opioids "widely
prescribed for the treatment of chronic pain for long periods of time
and at high doses." That dramatically increased the number of Americans
taking prescription opioids (97.5 million people in 2015.)
In 2012, 259 million prescriptions for opioids were dispensed in the U.S
- enough for one bottle for each American adult.
The New York Times estimated that in 2016, overdose deaths in America
reached a record high of between 59,000 and 65,000. By contrast, only
37,800 died in car crashes and 6,500 died of AIDS.
Yet President Trump refused to declare a "State of National Emergency,"
that was recommended by his White House Opioid Commission.
Instead, he offered a brief statement of the obvious, that the "best way
to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing
drugs in the first place. If they don't start, they won't have a
As one sign of the opioid crisis, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry disclosed
this week that her only son, Max Berry, 22, who had just graduated from
college - died of a drug overdose.
During his campaign, Trump promised that he would swiftly end the crisis
by building a wall along the southern U.S. border to stop the flow of
heroin into the country, boost funding for recovery programs, and
approach the problem with a humanitarian mindset instead of a
Of course, none of those steps have been taken. Indeed, Trump's proposed
budget would have imposed sweeping cuts to Medicaid spending for health
care, including treatment for drug abuse.
Yet this week the President pledged to "beat this situation. Nobody is
safe from this epidemic that threatens young and old, rich and poor,
urban and rural communities. Everybody is threatened," he told reporters
at his Bedminster golf course.
But he only offered rhetoric - not action. The situation was not serious
enough to accept the "first and most urgent recommendation" of a
Presidential Task Force headed by NJ Gov. Chris Christi, to declare a
"State of National Emergency."
Instead, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price announced that
there would be a national "listening tour," focusing on stemming opioid
abuse among veterans, and pregnant women who could pass along opioid
related problems to newborns.
What should be done about the opioid crisis?
First, we must stop the drug use by youth. Alcohol abuse often begins in
high school and leads many to experiment with marijuana or such opioids
as fentanyl and heroin to "get high."
In college, DuPont said, "You're surrounded by people who are using
alcohol and drugs in addictive ways." Students who abuse alcohol or
drugs have higher dropout rates and lower grades. But once students get
into recovery, he said, "It's stunning how many who were failing before
- are now getting A's."
Rutgers University pioneered a strategy called the Recovery House where
alcohol and drugs were prohibited. It attracted students who had flunked
out of other schools due to their opioid addiction. One student called
the "substance-free" housing "a safe place." Gov. Christi signed a law
that requires every state-run college or university in New Jersey to
offer "sober housing."
A second major strategy is to offer long-term treatment for the
addicted. Most treatment programs are short-term and do not change
lives. Methadone maintenance programs, if uninterrupted, are proven to
reduce arrests and increase employment of the once-addicted.
Third, drug treatment must be offered in prisons. Three out of four
inmates in Connecticut have a drug or alcohol problem. Yet the state's
jails were not even allowed to dispense methadone! When one prison's
medical director learned drug overdose deaths had doubled in six years,
and two of his relatives died of their addictions, and one of his own
children was a recovering addict - he belatedly fought to offer
methadone treatment to prisoners.
Fourth, Medicaid funds should be much more widely available to treat
addicted patients with low or moderate incomes. Very few are being
Finally, President Trump should declare a National Opioid State of
Copyright (c) 2017 Michael J. McManus,
President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. For previous
columns go to
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