The statistics for drug and alcohol addiction and the deaths (including suicides) that result from them are already heartbreaking. From 2006 through 2015, more than one million Americans died from overdoses, alcoholism, and suicide.
The problem has become so severe that life expectancy in the United States went down for two years in a row, something that is historically very rare. Drug and alcohol addictions are chronic, fatal diseases and their prevalence indicates that there is a major crisis of well-being in America, believed to be tied to mental and physical pain, despair, alienation, disconnection from society, and lack of opportunity. Bringing down death rates from drug and alcohol addiction and suicide will require addressing this crisis of well-being.
Unfortunately, it cannot be done overnight. Even if the country makes major changes to drug abuse prevention and treatment efforts, the next decade is expected to bring even more deaths from drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, and suicide than the previous decade did. Here is what public health experts predict, and how they hope to contain the damage.
Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for the Coming Decade
Trust for America’s Health (www.healthyamericans.org) has released a report titled “Pain in the Nation: The Drug, Alcohol and Suicide Crises and the Need for a National Resilience Strategy” that lays out predicted best- and worst-case scenarios for deaths from drug and alcohol abuse in the coming decade.
Under a “best-case” scenario, the decade from 2016 through 2025 is expected to bring 1.5 million deaths due to drugs, alcohol, and suicide. If current death rates continue, that figure is expected to be 1.6 million. Under a worst-case to extreme worst-case scenario, anywhere from 1.7 million to 2.0 million Americans could lose their lives to drug overdose, alcohol abuse, and suicide during the coming decade.
For reference, the city of Philadelphia has about 1.5 million residents, and Houston has just over 2 million residents. Continuing with current approaches will do little to curb the problem.
Paradigm Shift in Drug and Alcohol Addiction Needed
Nowhere in the above-referenced report does it mention arrest and incarceration as a solution to the drug and alcohol abuse epidemics. Arrests and incarceration are at best short-term solutions that get impaired drivers and publicly impaired citizens off the streets temporarily.
Instead, increased awareness and reduction of the stigma surrounding addiction and addiction treatment are needed. Drug abuse prevention needs to be a strong component of reducing death rates, and early intervention is needed so people can receive addiction treatment as soon as possible after addiction is diagnosed.
Furthermore, investments in early childhood education and wellness will be necessary. Ensuring that children have the stable nurturing, good nutrition, and positive home environments necessary to build resilience and prevent the “cascade of risk” that leads to the multi-generational impact of addiction should be a strong priority.
New approaches to pain management are desperately needed. Current pain management protocols have led to huge numbers of opioid addictions. At the same time, crackdowns on prescribing habits have not magically “cured” opioid addictions, but have instead driven prescription opioid addicts to use heroin instead.
Current Costs and ROI for Tackling the Problem
For those who need financial justification for investing in the well-being of Americans, the case is easy to make. For every dollar spent on school-based addiction prevention programs, communities can expect an ROI of $3.80 to $34.62. Each dollar invested in early childhood education and wellness returns $4 to $12.67. Effective treatment programs return $3.77 for every dollar invested, while incarceration enriches no one aside from for-profit prison shareholders.
The cost of healthcare associated with deaths from drug overdose, alcoholism, and suicide in America is currently $250 billion per year. Reducing those deaths will bring down the costs as well.
The crisis of alcoholism, drug overdose, and suicide in America is enormous and takes its toll every day, on people from every conceivable background. If you or someone you care about is being crushed beneath the weight of addiction, we encourage you to learn more about our admissions. There is no obligation, and you can contact us at any time.