By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on February 21, 2018.
Decades ago, while an undergraduate student, I did a term paper on drug addiction. What I observed one day at a sanatorium has remained vividly in my memory.
Four men in a locked room with padded walls were yelling and screaming, pounding the walls with their heads and hands. Two of them had urinated in their pants. They were drug addicts … a rarity in the 1950s.
Today, societies around the world are burdened with addictions and their huge socio-economic costs. “Worldwide, there is a rising trend in the number of people who resort to substance abuse at an early age,” the World Health Organization reported in 2014.
In one study, “most of the substance abusers had started taking drugs between the ages of 11 and 20 years.” Concerns about substance abusers increase when you read that their education is high school or less (78.8 per cent), they are unemployed or semi-skilled (68.7 per cent), never married (70.7 per cent) and living in urban locations (72.7 per cent).
Tobacco and alcohol are the most common initiating drugs of abuse. One study found that “… medicinal opioids and cannabis were the most common substances abused.” Yet, the current Trudeau government has legalized the use of recreational cannabis. Ironically, in 1963, the Liberal government started a cultural and health revolution with its anti-smoking legislation. During that time, cancers, heart, lung and other smoking-related diseases declined. Welcome to your future, Justin!
Provincial and municipal governments allow an ever-increasing number of alcohol-related businesses, notably along highways and high traffic city streets. Do those governments “of the people” realize that the costs of medical services, policing and lost productivity exceed the revenues received from booze licences, fees and taxes? Do they consider the injuries, deaths and terrible human costs to families, friends and our society?
One highly qualified, multi-disciplinary team of researchers has stated that “The menace of substance abuse is not only a socially unacceptable reality, but in its entirety is a disease and emerging as a public health challenge” … maybe a crisis. During 2017, the province of British Columbia had a record number of deaths – 1,422 – from opioid overdoses. That’s 43 per cent more than the previous year. And the trend is growing across Canada.
Further evidence of drug abuse is reported south of the 49th parallel. In 2015, a Los Angeles physician was the first doctor in the U.S. to be convicted of murder for recklessly over-prescribing drugs. Her clinic issued 27,000 prescriptions in three years. A medical report indicated that one in four antibiotic prescriptions “are likely to do no good” for the patients, especially for seniors.
Foolishly, a Washington State law was changed to state “No disciplinary action will be taken against a practitioner (physician) based solely on the quantity and/or frequency of opioids prescribed.” In the U.S., “… opioid overdose deaths are now the leading cause of accidental deaths … surpassing the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents and firearms.”
This article merely scratches the surface of the problems. What is critically needed is a community-based strategy intended to prevent and remedy addictions. But that won’t be an easy course of action. Saving lives never is.
Al Barnhill is a Lethbridge-based author and columnist.
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