The deadly lure of opioids is devastating communities across New York and the United States.
Parents, neighbors, elected officials, doctors, and police are struggling to find a solution. In the Capital Region, police agencies have been lauded for progressive drug policies and lawmakers have sued prescription medication manufacturers.
“The sad reality is that the opioid crisis hasn’t reached a peak yet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, projects that heroin addiction and overdose deaths will continue to rise for five to 10 more years,” Assemblyman John McDonald, a Cohoes Democrat who is also a pharmacist, told the Times Union in September. “We still have a lot of pain and suffering to go through.”
The grim war against addiction may leave area residents asking, Is it this bad everywhere else too?
New York ranked No. 13 overall in a recent report studying drug use state-by-state. Drug abuse was reportedly most pronounced in Washington, D.C., and least pronounced in Idaho.
New York scored high marks for the percentage of people seeking treatment and the state’s maternity drug policy but ranked poorly when it came to the percentage of addicts who needed treatment but did not receive it and the increase in overdose deaths in just a year’s time.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that there were more than 40,000 unintentional drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2011, a 118 percent increase since 1999. More than 22,000 people die every year from prescription drug abuse, more than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The abuse of and addiction to alcohol, nicotine, and illicit and prescription drugs cost Americans more than $700 billion a year in increased health care costs, crime, and lost productivity, NIDA reports. Every year, drugs and alcohol contribute to the death of more than 90,000 Americans, while tobacco is linked to roughly 480,000 deaths per year.
Decades of tough-on-crime policies have to lead to burgeoning arrests and strict sentencing for drug-related offenses. In 1980, less than 41,00 people were incarcerated for drug convictions. In 2015, nearly 470,000 people were behind bars for committing drug-related crimes, a trend that has disproportionately affected communities of color, according to the Sentencing Project.
“The problem is that we have never treated addiction like the chronic illness it is,” Robert Lindsey, former CEO of Friends of Recovery of New York, a grass-roots advocacy group, said in September. “We need to invest in addiction treatment at the level we invest in treating diabetes and heart disease and other chronic illnesses.”