NEW HAMPSHIRE, New England. – On a Democratic Presidential debate sponsored by ABC, Democratic Nominee Bernie Sanders said that he strives to change the perception of drug addiction amidst the continuing opioid epidemic that’s been rolling out throughout the country.As the U.S. opioid epidemic continues to rage — with synthetic painkillers (fentanyl) coming up as the top drug that has caused thousands of deaths, including the recent death of music icon Prince — presidential candidates are constantly queried regarding their stand and platforms regarding the drug addiction crisis.
At the recent campaign trail, Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders affirms his stance on treating drug addiction saying “we need to understand that addiction is a disease, not a criminal activity.” He further noted that medical professionals and pharmaceutical industries have to be involved in combating the problem.
In 2015, doctors wrote 6.64 million legal opiate painkiller prescriptions in the U.S. The abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin has led to a record number of overdoses and has dominated headlines.Click to tweet
“I think we have got to tell the medical profession and doctors who are prescribing opiates, and the pharmaceutical industry that they have got to start getting their act together.” Said Sanders during the New Hampshire debate, adding, “We need to understand that addiction is a disease, not a criminal activity. And that means radically changing the way we deal with mental health and addiction issues.”
The presidential candidate’s message has been carried out by others in the Democratic race, most especially by several prominent science and medical experts in the addiction recovery industry.
“We cannot have this huge number of opiates out there throughout this country where young people are taking them, getting hooked and then going to heroin,” said Sanders on how chronic pain turns to chronic addiction.
The opiate calamity that stretches to all corners of the nation rapidly escalated due to the increasing prevalence of chronic pain. Estimates indicate that a third of the nation’s population –100 million Americans are suffering from chronic pain.
It has been assessed that three out of four heroin addicts started out from painkiller prescriptions. People who develop a dependency on prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to turn to heroin. The increase in pain has led to a drastic increase in prescribing prescription pain killers.
In 2012, 259 million painkiller prescriptions were written, it is enough for every adult in the nation to have their own bottle of pills. Today, synthetic opioids are illicitly trafficked into the country making it highly available and cheaper – creating an easier avenue for opioid dependents to replace prescription doses. The problem has grown from back alleys and under the bridge dealings into well off neighborhoods and wealthy communities alike.
Recent statistics involving the new opioid drug addiction further show that heroin-related deaths increased 39 percent from 2012 – 2013, and the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths almost quadrupled from 2002 – 2013. 1.9 million Americans live with prescription opioid abuse or dependence; 517,000 Americans live with heroin addiction. Approximately 75 percent of people addicted to opioids will switch to heroin as a cheaper option but is recently taken over by fentanyl. There were about 8,200 deaths from opiate abuse in 2013. Today, fentanyl overdose is the leading cause of death, followed by heroin then morphine.
Sanders’ also stands on the grounds that criminalization has never been the right solution. Since 1971, the United States has been practicing incarceration as a strategy in dealing with drug abusers and addicts. The ongoing “War on Drugs” approach on incarceration over rehabilitation has long been called a failure. The current stratagem has led to the overpopulation of jails and trillions of wasted tax money.
Drug abuse and addiction has risen, not declined, despite the passing of several anti-drug policies that favored incarceration over rehabilitation. As a result, this practice has led to an excess increase in the number of inmates taken in, most of whom are individuals from low-income areas, minorities and non-violent drug offenders. A staggering $51 billion of tax payer’s money spent annually on the system has proven to be generally ineffective.According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, on any typical day, it is estimated that over 20 million Americans over age 12 have illicitly used a prohibited substance within the past 30 days. As that number is steadily increasing, it is distinctly clear that threatening people with criminalization is futile in trying to stop them from abusing or trafficking drugs.
It is thought that if addiction is simply by choice, the nation would not be suffering from the current drug addiction epidemic. Chronic drug abusers are, more often, led into the predicament due to mental disabilities, traumatic experiences, medical condition and family history.
Sanders also believes that rehabilitation works as better strategy and is much cheaper than incarceration. Through rehabilitation, a person can create a better path to success instead of battling out recovery and sobriety through harsh and lonely environments.
Although rehabilitation is a tedious process, by centering on the whys and hows instead of the whats and cutting to the root problem – through collective effort, a blueprint for long-term success can be made possible. Addicts can start a new life, improve health and mend broken family bonds.
An example of which is currently producing success stories in nearly two decades of existence.
The Behavioural Health of the Palm Beaches have guided thousands of people to overcome drug addiction and remain sober. The institution has become a forerunner in the constant pursuit of new and innovative programs and treatments and are committed to ongoing research and leadership in the industry.