To stop the opioid epidemic, we need to stop fighting the war | Richard C Merkl

Healthcare Overdose Deaths Reached Record High as the Pandemic Spread More people died of overdoses in 2018 than ever before, with the recent upturn only adding to the plague of drug deaths in our country

Overdose deaths reached a record high in 2018 as the recent upturn only added to the plague of drug deaths in our country. While we’ve spent more than $20bn on drug fighting, we’ve failed to stem the tide.

The opioid epidemic started more than a decade ago, and the number of deaths from overdose started rising in 2012. We’ve doubled down in the past year with new and well-intentioned initiatives, all designed to tackle overdoses – from the $1.5bn opioid commission, the state legislature passing new laws, and the Department of Justice taking at least a partial step to block pill mills. All of these are important and worthwhile initiatives, but they’re not going to change the fact that we are spending over $20bn a year on this.

The overdose numbers for 2018 have just been released, and we learned that 2018 saw a record-high number of overdose deaths in the US. In 2018, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 33,091 people died of overdoses, with more than 90% of them being related to opioids. These deaths are just the latest reminder that the opioid epidemic isn’t some distant threat that will soon be fixed. It’s a ten-year civil war that we are losing at a stunning rate.

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The Trump administration has created a chemical warfare situation in our country. We are engaged in not just a war against opioids, but an economic war as well. Worse yet, we’re not winning the war. The number of people dying from opioid overdoses is far higher than it was in 2016 – a rate that has doubled since 2016. I’m wondering how many more deaths we’re going to see this year. More than 700 people are dead this year. That’s so many.

I recently spoke to the father of Cory Smith, one of the victims of Tuesday’s overdose outside a Huntington Beach gas station. My friend, Eric Tucker, our youth minister, and I talked to Corey’s father about our plan to raise money to fund a drug treatment program for Corey. As we began to tell him the story, his faith in God was shaken, and his greatest fear was that his son’s death was some kind of accident or not a part of God’s plan. Sadly, that is the most likely scenario and my friend didn’t seem to understand that. He said he never believed that God meant for us to die in this way. He still mourns Cory’s loss.

We see every day that we can’t solve this problem on our own, and so we welcome every assistance we can get. I’m glad the federal government is taking steps to address the drug epidemic, and I’m glad the president has spoken out publicly against this epidemic. But these steps are nothing more than a drop in the bucket of the problem. We will not solve this problem, as Eric told me, until we acknowledge that the war has failed us. I know that we can all make a difference.

When we live in a time of infinite possibilities, the status quo is not acceptable. That means honestly talking about the real epidemic, the real problem. We need to stop pushing for solutions that are separate from what is really happening, and we need to build an alternative to the war on drugs. We need to make sure that justice is served and freedom lives on. In the beginning, the opioid epidemic was a war on drugs. In 2019, it needs to be a war on poverty, on despair, and on hopelessness. Every human being is equal in our eyes.

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