The Growing Opioid Epidemic

In New Hampshire, recent polls show that drug abuse and deadly overdoses of heroin and other opioids in the state is the number one concern of voters. A HuffPost/YouGov poll revealed that nationwide 49 percent of all Americans feel heroin and opioid use is a serious problem, while an additional 38 percent agree it’s a somewhat serious problem.

Issue dominating key Senate races

Searches about "heroin" peaked last week for the third time this year at the highest level in the past five years, according to data from Google Trends. The surge in opioid addiction and overdoses has been dominating several key Senate races, but on the presidential campaign trail and in Washington, the issue has been much less prominent. — USA Today
Opioids are a general class of medications that are medically prescribed to relieve pain. Opioids that are most commonly prescribed are “hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (e.g., Kadian, Avinza), codeine.”

Prince died from opioid overdose in June

Earlier this summer, the artist Prince died from an overdose of fentanyl. For many Americans, it was their first exposure to this painkiller that is more than 50 times more potent than heroin. Prince’s death put a spotlight on the rapidly growing problem of opioid overuse.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. Like heroin, morphine, and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body's opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When opioid drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain's reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation. Fentanyl's effects resemble those of heroin and include euphoria, drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, tolerance, addiction, respiratory depression and arrest, unconsciousness, coma, and death. — National Institute on Drug Abuse

Heroin was once legal in the U.S.

Most people would agree that heroin is a ‘bad’ drug. However, until the early 1920’s heroin was marketed in the U.S. as a ‘safe’ drug by Bayer, the same folks that produce aspirin, and was widely prescribed even to children. Heroin was pulled from the market due to its highly addictive nature. For many years, heroin was thought to be a drug only used by hardcore addicts that roamed the streets of the inner cities and not a drug that would affect the ‘average’ American. That changed in the late 1990’s as heroin use increased and moved to the suburbs.

Congress passes CARA

Earlier this year, President Obama called on Congress to address the growing problem of opioid drug abuse in the country by enacting the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) law and fund it with $1.1 billion dollars. In July, Congress approved the law but failed to provide any funding. On September 29 Congress released just $7 million of the approved amount.

Will kill more than 50,000 Americans this year

At the same time that Congress released just $7 million of the approved funding for CARA, it also released $1.1 billion to fight Zika in the U.S. In 2015, more than 47,000 Americans died from opioid drug overdoses; so far there has only been one death attributed to the Zika virus in the U.S. The disparity in funding $7 million to fight a problem that will kill more than 50,000 Americans in 2016, compared to spending $1.1 billion on a disease that will probably kill only a handful of people this year, shows the difficulty in convincing lawmakers that the opioid epidemic is a critical national problem.
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. — Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of CDC
Heroin and opiate addiction were once thought to be a problem of the inner cities, but in recent years it has spread throughout the country striking rural and affluent communities as well as inner cities.
Deaths from drug overdoses have jumped in nearly every county across the United States, driven largely by an explosion in addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin. Some of the largest concentrations of overdose deaths were in Appalachia and the Southwest. — The New York Times

Never been a marijuana overdose death

Presidential candidate Gary Johnson recently stated, "legal prescription drugs statistically kill 100,000 people a year, and there are no documented deaths due to marijuana." Politifact reviewed the claim and found it accurate that no deaths have ever been recorded from an overdose of marijuana, although it noted that marijuana had been implicated as a factor in accidental deaths.
The federal government and most states are throwing away $28 billion in yearly tax revenue by not legalizing marijuana, according to a new analysis from the Tax Foundation, an independent think tank. — The Washington Post
Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, and the state began collecting taxes on the sale of pot. In 2015 this amounted to $125 million, and the revenue numbers are expected to increase in future years. Colorado uses part of the tax revenue to fund programs to help combat opioid abuse. In 2015 the Drug Policy Alliance announced a 23% reduction in all drug-related charges in the state.

Tax on pot would produce $28 billion

If the federal government were to end its opposition to the legalization of marijuana it could take just a small portion of the of the estimated $28 billion in tax revenue generated by marijuana sales and use it to fight the heroin and opiate epidemic that is killing at least 128 Americans every day. To many, it seems the logical thing to do.

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