The Futility of the Fight Against Drug Addiction

With more than 24 million drug addicts in a nation of nearly 319 million people, the chances you are related to, are acquaintances with, or work with an addict are great; the chance that most of them will receive adequate treatment is not.

Warning: Graphic Images in Video below:

The faces of addiction have changed over the decades with an increase in opioid addiction, both to prescription pain killers and illicit opioids such as heroin. No longer is the stereotype of a hooded, emaciated street person the face of addiction. That stereotype usually included the image of a person of color, most likely black. Today, addiction is striking the suburbs as much as the inner city and includes all age groups, income levels and ethnic origins. Addiction strikes regardless of any of those factors – it is one of the infamous equalizers.

The Statistics of Addiction

  • In the United States, more than 24 million people age 12 and over are addicted to illicit substances in the United States; nearly half a million of those are heroin addicts and another 2.1 million people are addicted to prescription opioid pain pills.
  • In Canada, 5 million people abuse illicit drugs and another million are addicted to prescription opioid pain pills.
  • Worldwide, between 26 and 36 million people abuse opioids of some kind.In 2014, more than 47,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S., with heroin overdose deaths tripling in number from 2010. and a 14 percent increase over 2013. (

In the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention’s press release discussing the trends in drug addiction and overdose deaths in 2014, Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.H.P., said:

“The increasing number of deaths from opioid overdose is alarming. The opioid epidemic is devastating American families and communities. To curb these trends and save lives, we must help prevent addiction and provide support and treatment to those who suffer from opioid use disorders. This report also shows how important it is that law enforcement intensify efforts to reduce the availability of heroin, illegal fentanyl, and other illegal opioids.”

The Statistics of Recovery

  • There are more than 14,500 addiction treatment facilities in the United States. In doing the math with 2014 numbers, that would mean each facility would need to treat 1,656 people with drug addiction alone to serve the needs of that population. (https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states)
  • It is estimated that in actuality, only 10 percent of those who seek treatment for their addiction actually receive such treatment.

The Gravity and Scope of Drug Addiction/Recovery Issues

What is the disconnect between acknowledgment of the gravity of the issue of drug addiction, both illicit and prescription drugs, and the remedies for those issues? There is no single answer, no knee-jerk reaction by public or private officials that can answer the question adequately.

  • As the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, drug addiction is a complex disorder. It is not a social problem; addiction is a disease, pronounced as such by the medical community. As with most health issues, there is no single answer or approach that works for each individual. Addiction has both mental and physical components, further complicating treatment and recovery.

A group of doctors, addiction counselors and recovering addicts held a town hall meeting in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on Oct. 7, 2016, to discuss the problem of fentanyl and its deadly presence. In 2015, Alberta province recorded 275 overdose deaths due to fentanyl; in 2016, the province had already recorded 153 such deaths to date. Alberta Liberal Party Leader Dr. David Swann, one of the hosts of the evening’s meeting said that the problem with fentanyl warrants the issuance of a state of emergency. Swann explained:

“Any other preventable illness causing so much death and suffering would have long since been declared a public health emergency.”

This is not unlike the issues faced by public health officials in the United States, where street heroin in often laced with fentanyl, or a substance even more potent and deadly than fentanyl – carfentanil – a drug used by veterinarians to sedate very large animals such as elephants.

  • The War on Drugs: No discussion of drug abuse, addiction, treatment and recovery is complete without the mention of the effects of the United States’ war on drugs has had, not only in creating additional drug abuse problems but by criminalizing illicit drug users and addicts. Hundreds of thousands of people have been imprisoned over the 40+ years of the official “war on drugs,” with their fate and that of their family members forever burdened.
  • The stigma that remains attached to mental health issues in general remains in place for those with addiction problems, but perhaps two or three-fold. The medical community may agree that addiction is a disease, but the impact of that determination will take years to resonate with the general public. Addicts, drug users, their family and friends are often forced to live in silence about the problem, the antithesis of what is necessary to aid an individual to take the first steps to seeking treatment and recovery.
  • There are a number of initiatives that the medical community is undertaking to reduce the overuse of prescription opioid pain pills while still effectively managing acute and chronic pain. If fewer people become addicted to their prescription pain pills, it should follow that there will be fewer people who will then need to feed their opioid habits with heroin or other illicit, but less expensive, drugs. In the meantime, it is important that no stigma becomes attached to the need for, and use of, opioid pain medications by those who truly require them for effective pain management.

Addiction is treatable and can be managed successfully, meaning people have received treatment to counteract the physical effects of the addiction on their bodies and learned methods to regain control of their lives and their behavior to be able to overcome the urges to use again. There are any number of roadblocks along the way, from recognizing one has a problem to finding a shred of self-esteem that tells that person he or she is worth the effort of treatment and recovery.

Warning: Graphic Images in the Video Below:

Many people with substance abuse or addiction problems go through several treatment or rehabilitation programs before they learn to successfully manage their own lives and behaviors. Not every program is the best one for each individual.

Add in the problem of payment – there are many publicly-funded rehab programs, but many accept only private insurance or cash. There are waiting lists to get into most of those programs that accept Medicaid or are otherwise funded; waiting when an addict is ready right now, this moment, can literally mean the difference between life and death for that person. Waiting means using again, using not to get high, but to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Using again means another chance that the addict will overdose on that substance, or that it will be unknowingly laced with something stronger such as fentanyl or carfentanil.

If this information feels confusing and futile to you, imagine what the reality of it is like for that person just needing their next dose, or “fix,” of that substance just so they don’t feel sick. Compound that with whatever the underlying problem drove the person to abuse drugs in the first place and you can begin to understand what a complex issue drug addiction and addiction treatment is. It is not likely to improve until as a society we are able to embrace the comprehensive changes that lie ahead, in our collective thinking and acceptance of addiction as a disease and our responsibility as a society to provide what is necessary to treat that disease – and perhaps some day in the future – to be able to help those who would seek to abuse drugs for one reason or another from doing so by intervening in a humane manner.


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