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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Tag: addiction

Majority of Americans See Drug Addiction as a Disease

A recent survey summarized by the The Daily News revealed that a majority of Americans view prescription drug addiction as a disease. However, most respondents still would not welcome those addicts into their living environment.

According to the survey by the Associated Press- NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, results show that more than 1 in 10 Americans have had someone close to them die from an opioid overdose. In the past 18 years, opioid-related deaths have quadrupled. The national life expectancy has also decreased due to this epidemic.

According to the survey, 53 percent of Americans view addiction as a disease, but less than 1 in 5 Americans were willing to closely associate themselves with an individual suffering from a drug addiction.

Opioids have taken the lives of many in the past decade. CC Image Courtesy of Health.mil.

The Daily News article interviewed Emily Fleischer, a 36-year-old librarian who has been affected by the opioid epidemic. She understands why certain individuals may want to keep their distance from those addicted to opioids.

“‘I can see why people wouldn’t want that to be up close and personal, even if they do feel it is a disease and not the person’s fault,’” Fleischer said.

Unfortunately, a very few amount of those battling opioid addiction receive treatment: about 1 in 5.

Some medical professionals are trying to to de-stigmatize drug addiction by comparing it to well known physical health diseases. Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana Wen feels that it is “counterproductive to blame people for their conditions.”

“’If somebody is afflicted with heart disease or cancer then everybody brings that person or their family a casserole, but if someone is afflicted with addiction then they don’t have the same community support,’” Wen said.

For many, the battle with opioid addiction begins with an exposure to painkillers that becomes difficult for them to stop. As seen with J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, his own mother was prescribed narcotics that turned into an addiction.

“I believe the problem started with a legitimate prescription, but soon enough, Mom was stealing from her patients and getting so high that turning an emergency room into a skating rink seemed like a good idea” (113).

Author J.D. Vance’s close family was affected by prescription drug addiction. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

These survey results demonstrate that although opinions have begun to shift on how opioid addiction is viewed in the United States, there is a long way to go on finding a complex solution for this detrimental epidemic.

 

The Link Between Education and Health

“Across America, people are falling ill and dying young. These men and women have something in common. In fact, they stand out because of something they don’t have: a college degree.”

In a recent analysis conducted by Princeton University, economists Case and Deaton discovered that those who have not attended college live shorter, unhealthier lives when compared to those who attended college.

In a Washington Post article published about these findings, author Karin Fischer noted that the reasons behind this discovery are not simply revolving around money- pain, stress, and social dysfunction all contribute to the problem.

Starting in the late 1990s, cases of illness and death started to increase for white men and women aged 45-54 who did not have a college degree. Case and Deaton noticed these rising death rates among those middle-aged individuals and saw a connection for less-educated adults of all ages.

In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance noted how difficult it was for people of a poorer background to attend college even if they had aspirations to (pp. 64-65). He often felt like an outsider at Yale Law School because he was exposed to people of completely different backgrounds than him, but he was also thankful for the incredible opportunities and success that his higher education brought him (pp. 204-7).

Author J.D. Vance as a child. Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

In the Princeton University study, they also noticed that life expectancy was increasing for those with college degrees.

“While there’s long been a gap in health outcomes based on education, it now looks more like a yawning gulf,” Fischer mentioned.

Stanford researchers have discovered a connection between education level and health. CC Image Courtesy of Pexels.

Those with stable, well-paying jobs are more likely to be healthier in the United States, especially since the United States holds a system of employment-based health care. However, the relationship between education and health is not strictly reliant upon solely socioeconomic status.

Case and Deaton have their own predictions as to why this is happening. They connected the mortality rate among those without college degrees to rising deaths from drug and alcohol abuse and suicide- what they are calling “deaths of despair.” Drug and alcohol addiction were also reoccurring issues that J.D. Vance wrote about in his memoir.

“Their theory goes like this: Over the past several decades, the economy has shifted, eliminating many of the jobs that once went to people without college degrees. The share of men in their prime working years, ages 25 to 54, who are not in the work force has more than tripled since the late 1960s. Those who do have jobs are unlikely to be pulling in the same sorts of wages as generations before them.”

According to Case and Deaton, those who do not have college degrees have reported being unhappier than those with college experience. From this, they may turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Rural America was especially negatively impacted by the changing economy, and the people in these areas tend to be white, older, and less-educated than those living in cities and suburbs.

Experts are not saying college is the answer for all of these striking issues, especially since college tuition is too expensive for many affected by these findings. Instead, they recommend changes in policy that “could help ease the disadvantage that comes from not having a degree.” Case and Deaton also want to alter the connection between employment and health care, where education will still matter, but policy changes could change its strong connection to health.

Even though more people today are attending college than those in the past, it is important to consider the effects it has on those that are not able to attend college.

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

 

 

The Opioid Epidemic Hits Close to Home

We’ve discussed the opioid epidemic several times- whether it be on a national level, looking more closely at Hillbilly Elegy, or hearing more about it at the Keynote Event last month.

The opioid epidemic has also caught the attention of Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker, but there has been another group in the Madison area that has been focusing on this problem for years.

The opioid epidemic has been affecting the Madison community. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

In a recent article following the progress of this group, it revealed that Safe Communities recognized this detrimental problem in Wisconsin as early as five years ago. They have increased the number of MedDrop boxes in the past several years, which has shown to be a huge help in recovering old medication.

Safe Communities also helped launch the recovery coach program and are hoping to expand it outside of SSM Health’s St. Mary’s.

Safe Communities is located right in the Madison area. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

“They know about the pain and they know sort of how low people can feel and then, how hopeful they can be,” Cheryl Wittke, Safe Communities executive director, noted. “Having that message has made a big difference and we’ve seen 90 percent of folks who are going through that process sign up for treatment.”

While a lot has been accomplished to recognize there is a problem, Wittke believes there is a lot that still needs to be done.

“There’s a lot more to be done and things are not good. We’re not seeing a reduction in overdose deaths currently. I guess maybe the good news is we’ve seen a slowing in the rate of increase,” Wittke said.

There was a Stop the Overdose Summit on November 6th that created a to-do list and new goals for the upcoming months.

To learn more about how to combat the opioid epidemic in Madison, feel free to check out the Safe Communities website.

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Childhood Trauma and its Potentially Detrimental Effects

“‘Chaotic — there is no other way to describe my childhood. I always felt alone.’”

Rob Sullivan, now an adult, still remembers the traumatic events from his childhood that impact him every day. In an interview with the New York Times, Sullivan discusses how the trauma in his life as a child has led him to hardships in his adulthood.

Running into trouble with the law as an adult, Sullivan believes that he is responsible for making bad decisions in his own life, although experts claim that this troubling path may begin long before the individual recognizes it.

What happens to a child in their youth can affect their decisions as an adult- whether that be ending up in prison or even their overall cognitive functioning.

“’Childhood trauma is a huge factor within the criminal justice system,’” said Christopher Wildeman, a sociologist at Cornell University and co-director of the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect. “’It is among the most important things that shapes addictive and criminal behavior in adulthood.’”

As seen in Hillbilly Elegy, author J.D. Vance describes traumatic events of his own childhood that still affect him and his relationships today.

“In my worst moments, I convince myself that there is no exit, and no matter how much I fight old demons, they are as much an inheritance as my blue eyes or brown hair” (230).

Author J.D. Vance pictured with his grandmother. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Childhood trauma affects everyone differently, but for both Sullivan and Vance, the troubling memories from their childhood do not fade away with age.

Both Sullivan and Vance completed questionnaires that measured the degree of childhood trauma, criteria including physical and verbal abuse, abandonment, and several others, and the two of them scored relatively high.

In Sullivan’s case, there have been many connections to those in prison and their experiences with childhood trauma.

New York Times study followed 10 newly released prisoners in Connecticut for a year, Sullivan being one of them. A look at their histories demonstrated that before they were prisoners, many of them were victims of abuse.

Seven of those 10 completed a questionnaire to quantify the level of childhood trauma they experienced, and all but one scored four or more, indicating a high degree of trauma and an elevated risk for chronic diseases, depression, substance abuse, and violence.

Although traumatic childhood experiences affect individuals differently throughout their lifetime, most adults remember many of the traumatic events they experienced. For Sullivan, he has run into trouble following some patterns of previous family members, such as substance abuse and prison. Although it is a grueling process, he hopes to turn his life around for the better.

Child trauma affects the lives of many adults today. CC Image Courtesy of Pixabay.

“’I have never followed through on anything in my life,’” he said, tears in his eyes. “’It’s hard. I know if I end up back in the streets I will end up drinking and using again.’”

Undoubtedly, childhood trauma has been scientifically proven to affect individuals in their adult years. It will be interesting to see what kind of continued discoveries we will read about childhood trauma moving forward and possible solutions for this serious issue.

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Hillbilly Elegy Panelist Keynote Event Recap

On Monday night, Professors Kathy Cramer, Katherine Magnuson, and Aleksandra Zgierska took to the stage to discuss political, social, and health issues present in Hillbilly Elegy. 

Professor Kathy Cramer, speaking first, noted that this book has raised questions for its possible connection to the 2016 presidential election. However, Cramer hinted towards approaching that perspective with caution.

“It’s become a little bit of a myth that the white working class was responsible for the election of Trump,” Cramer said. “We need to be careful about jumping from this book to assumptions about Donald Trump supporters.”

Professor Kathy Cramer. Image Courtesy of the UW-Madison Faculty website.

Professor Katherine Magnuson followed Cramer’s remarks with a discussion on poverty, especially between generations in rural areas. A map was displayed on her presentation that illustrated how difficult it was for families in different areas to overcome inter-generational poverty.

She mentioned that of those born into the bottom 20 percent of wealth within the United States, only a mere 4 percent make it to the top percentage of wealthy Americans within their lifetime- a concerning statistic.

A preview of the interactive map. Image Courtesy of the New York Times website.

Last to speak about a very highly anticipated topic was Professor Aleksandra Zgierska. She tackled the stigma around drug addiction and the impact that opioids have on Americans today.

She worries that with the increasing numbers of overdoses increasing so rapidly, the problem is going to have to hit an all time low before it starts to get better. However, she still remains hopeful in breaking the stigma around addiction and getting individuals the help that they need.

“There’s a lot we need to do to break the stigma of addiction, to break the misconceptions that exist out there, so that we can help people reach out for help and get the help they need,” Zgierska said.

The event closed with a Q&A session between panelists and audience members. Although brief, questions included those of successful immigration into the US, tips for combating opioid addiction, and if placing “blame” for issues within the political system is a beneficial tactic.

A huge thank you to the panelists who participated in the event and everyone who joined to discuss Hillbilly Elegy. The Go Big Read team enjoyed seeing so many people expressing their interest in Hillbilly Elegy and wanting to discuss these topics with the Madison community.

The recorded video will be posted to the Go Big Read website shortly.

Until next year!

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office