With opioid abuse, doing nothing is not an option

A new year has dawned and with it comes a new law here in North Carolina aimed at taking a direct hit on opioid abuse across our state.

While it is a great first step in the uphill battle against this very serious addiction, indications in this fresh new year aren’t all that optimistic that the war will be won.

But tackle it we must, or the damming statistics released at the end of the will only be the start of a devastating time for those who are either already addicted or will become that way before 2018 comes to a close.

A Washington Post article released on New Year’s Day provides devastating realities about Center for Disease Control numbers showing that drug overdose deaths in 2016 had soared by 21 percent, to 63,632.

Why 2016 numbers? Those are the most recent figures released because official statistics always fall behind by about a year, sometimes more.

Nevertheless, the numbers are staggering and clearly paint a picture of what 2017 results must look like considering the rise in opioid abuse in the past 12 months, and what we can expect out of 2018 if serious measures aren’t put in place across the country to halt the ease of access many have to prescription medications.

According to the Post, Bob Anderson, who studies mortality statistics for the CDC, said the data observed through May 2017 shows the problem is “at least as bad” as the 2016 numbers. In fact, the drug death toll, the Post points out — opioids killed more than 42,000 people, a 28 percent increase over 2015 — is so high that it is now primarily responsible for the second straight year of decline in overall U.S. life expectancy.

Hear that again: the drug death toll is so high that it is now primarily responsible for the second straight year of decline in overall U.S. life expectancy.

That fact alone should make us all sit up, take notice and work together to help stop this out-of-control wrecking ball. How do we prevent people from becoming addicted? We vote for the right people as lawmakers, we encourage the lawmakers we have to pass bills that make penalties tougher, treatment easier and prescription meds more difficult to obtain, and we educate those in which we have some influence to the deadly consequences a choice of drugs can cause.

Sitting on our duffs is simply not an option.

Even though prescriptions for opioids appear to be down slightly and laws like the new STOP Act in North Carolina will ensure doctors give patients fewer pills, and for shorter periods of time than in years past, synthetic opioids like Fentanyl are becoming a higher demand drug.

Just as locking up one drug dealer only draws five more to the streets, tapping down prescription drugs only leads to someone manufacturing something else that is more addictive and more dangerous, and often illegal. Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids fit that bill.

That is why the STOP Act, alone, cannot help us win this war. Education is vital and treatment all important. They go hand-in-hand. One without the other only wins a small part of the battle.

As we say on this page far too often, as long as there is a demand, there will be someone around to meet it. So stopping the demand has to be a top priority, too, and that takes educating people and treating those who’ve already succumbed to the addictive nature of opioids and other drugs.

We are glad Gov. Roy Cooper took that all-important step of implementing STOP, now we hope lawmakers in North Carolina and across the U.S. will look at other measures that have to be found to work with STOP to kick opioid addiction to the curb.

The drug problem, whether we like it or not, is ours to face and ours in which to deal. It impacts us on many levels. And, in the end, it will be up to us, individually and as a nation, to do something about it.