Two years ago, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State address to Vermont’s heroin crisis. It made national news—as it should have—and heroin has been in the news nearly every day since.
A few months ago, a pair of economists from Princeton realized that the death rate for middle-aged American white adults is rising, while the death rate for all other groups, here and in all other developed countries, is flat or falling. Now the data are back for young white people, and the story is the same. For the first time since American youth were drafted to serve in Vietnam, a generation of Americans is experiencing higher death rates than the generation that preceded it. And the primary reason is the explosion of drug overdoses, mostly heroin and other opiates.
We are bombarded with so much bad news about the size and scope of this epidemic that many of us have become inured and begun to tune it out. Sure, we all know that heroin is deadly, and most of us realize that prescription opioids are highly addictive and dangerous. Doctors and many of the rest of us understand the connection between prescription painkillers and street heroin. Our awareness has been raised, but our kids are still dying. Intellectual understanding is important, but there needs to be something more.
This is why NCADA is again running a new anti-heroin Public Service Announcement during the Super Bowl; because awareness of the heroin epidemic is a necessary but not sufficient condition to effect change. We have to FEEL how this problem destroys lives. We have to stare it in the face and see the catastrophic consequences in one person’s life, not hear about the incidence and prevalence among thousands. Statistics do not linger in our heads, but the harrowing journey of one young girl—who could be our daughter, our sister or our friend—just might.
So once again NCADA is going to intrude on your Super Bowl party. We’re going to ask the adults in the audience to spend a minute with one young woman who is being held hostage by this terrible drug, and we’re going to ask them to share her descent and watch her circle the drain. For the young people in the audience we hope to provide a crystal ball and a mirror; we hope to engage their attention and, for sixty troubling seconds, ask them to consider what’s at stake.
I wish we didn’t have to do this. I would much prefer to spend the commercial breaks on Sunday with sympathetic Clydesdales, a talking gecko and a macrocephalic Jack-in-the-Box. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and we at NCADA are committed to elevating the public discourse in order to spark some sort of change. For instance:
- Committing to the prevention of this problem through cost-effective school-based curricula that we know will reduce the initiation of use.
- Parents and grandparents throwing away all their unused pain medication and locking up the small amount they actually need.
- Doctors no longer prescribing sixty pills when a dozen will do.
- Moving away from pain as the “fifth vital sign,” and developing a new paradigm of treating chronic pain holistically and thoughtfully.
- Missouri finally joining Puerto Rico, Guam and every other of the forty nine United States in passing a PDMP. Or expanding Medicaid to create more and more affordable treatment options.
The time is now for our community—politicians, government bureaucrats, funders, big pharma, doctors, educators, and you—to rally together and begin to treat the heroin/opiate epidemic for what it really is: a public health emergency.
Then get involved. For more information contact:Howard Weissman
Executive Director, NCADA