The War on Drugs began in 1971 after President Richard Nixon declared drug use as "public enemy number one," The effort to cut down on the illegal sale, distribution and consumption of psychoactive drugs has been raging for more than 40 years, but how effective has the war been?
Despite all the drug busts, treatment programs, and after-school slogans (Just Say No!), drug use among Americans continues to rise.
Naturally, not all drugs are created equal. Many states have already legalized medical marijuana, which has helped to remove some of the stigma around cannabis. Other states have legalized the Devil's Lettuce entirely, and are nurturing a booming industry in their state. Even so-called 'magic mushrooms' are being decriminalized in Denver, Colorado.
However, opioid overdoses have become such an enormous crisis in the United States over the last decade, the Trump Administration declared the opioid crisis a national emergency last year and after looking at the figures from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it's easy to see why. In 2017, over 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017. Compare that figure with 1999 in which just under 17,000 people died.
Depending on where you live, the opioid crisis could be far worse. WalletHub gathered data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and compared it across 22 metrics that ranged from the percentage of teen drug users, and overdose rates, to opioid prescriptions and employee drug testing laws.
At the center of the crisis is the nation's capital. The District of Columbia was ranked as the number on area that had the highest incidents of drug use and addictions. D.C. also tied for first for having the most overdose deaths per capita and reported having the second highest percentage of adults addicted to drugs, and highest percentage of adults who aren't getting treatment for their drug problems. Addicts in D.C. also have the fewest amount of substance abuse treatment centers available to them in the U.S., making treatment hard to find.
Michigan, Missouri, West Virginia and Indiana rounded out the top five states with the worst drug problems.
Rhode Island, Vermont and Oregon had the highest percentage of teenagers who reported using drugs in the last month. According to the study, kids in Utah, Texas and Iowa are staying away from drugs.
When it came down to the Blue State vs Red State divide, the Blue States were slightly more likely to have a bigger drug problem than Red States.
Dr. Richard Rawson, a professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles blames the over-prescription of opioid medications for the recent opioid epidemic.
"The over-prescription of pain medication was a (if not THE) major contributor to the development of the opioid epidemic from the late 1990’s through 2010," Dr. Rawson said. "The “market” for opioids, which has subsequently become supplied via heroin and fentanyl was created by individuals who had the initiation of the OUD from prescription pain medicine."
These days, doctors have more rules on who they prescribe opioid medications to, Dr. Rawson said.
"The reason US doctors over-prescribed for pain in the 90’s and first decade of the 2000’s was misinformation about the potential for addiction from pain medicine, guidelines that recommended pain medicine in excessive amounts, both of these factors promulgated by pharma, consciously and knowingly, with cooperation of medication suppliers and pharmacies," Rawson said.
If you suspect a family member or friend has a drug problem, Dr. Rawson recommends the following for people to help their friend or family member kick their addiction:
- Become knowledgeable about addiction and the treatment (MOUD) resources available in the community.
- Provide the addicted individual with support, encouragement and assistance to initiate treatment. Attend MOUD induction with the addicted individual and provide assistance and encouragement for them to get into treatment.
- Do not provide the addicted individual with cash to buy drugs, but if they become anxious and agitated because of fear of withdrawal, offer to take them to a facility where they can rapidly get access to MOUD.
- Attend any treatment activities or community support groups for the family members of individuals with addiction.
- Support/encourage the efforts of addicted individuals to initiate new non-drug-related activities.
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