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The "Opioid Crisis"

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

We are not in the midst of an opioid epidemic; we are in the midst of a white

opioid epidemic...

It is true that between 1999 and 2021 the United States saw a massive increase in opioid (heroin, fentanyl, morphine, etc.) overdose deaths. The result: we are now in the midst of a so-called “opioid epidemic.” But all citizens are not equally at risk. While overdose deaths have increased only slightly in black and Latinx communities, they have gone up substantially in white communities. Between 1999 and 2015, white overdose deaths in the US increased at a steady rate of seven-percent every year, while Latinx and black populations saw only a two-percent per-year concurrent increase.*

We are not in the midst of an opioid epidemic. We are in the midst of a white opioid epidemic.

So long as the overdose, incarceration and disease remained overrepresented in communities of color and black communities, the government didn't seem to mind all that much, or to even consider it a crisis. But when white bodies were threatened, things changed.

Diseases related to addiction have also increased disproportionately in white communities. Anne Case and Angus Deaton found that within the last 20 years “increasing death rates from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis” have risen among white communities at much higher rates than black or Latinx communities. In 1999 the death rate from these diseases was nearly 30% lower for white, working class respondents than for black, working class respondents; in 2013 it was 30% higher.

For an overview of annual costs related to Opioid Use Disorder between 1999-2017, check out the AJMC article, "The Economic Burden of the Opioid Epidemic on States: The Case of Medicaid"

The introduction to this episode (Smoothie, D-Money, Shifty...) was from Maine Governor Paul LePage.

My OpEd in Westword is called, "Should Denver Open Safe Injection Sites?"

*The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) "Provisional Overdose Counts" rely on undependable reporting techniques, so they are likely to consistently (and deliberately) overrepresent overdose deaths. But they are still representative of an overdose spike concurrent with COVID-19 restrictions, and largely related to fentanyls which are making their way into other illegal drugs because prohibition adds all sorts of fingers to the pie. Even though the CDC uses faulty reporting techniques which are certain to overrepresent overdose deaths, they are all we have when it comes to estimating the damage done by the war on drugs.

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