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Tag: Opioid Epidemic

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 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

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

Heroin Crisis is Taking Lives of Many in Appalachia

“The worst part of overdosing was waking up,” claimed a West Virginia heroin user.

A recent New Yorker article follows the lives of several people in West Virginia, exposing the widespread problem of heroin usage in poorer areas of the Appalachian region.

The Appalachia region. CC Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A few of the Appalachian states consist of North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Mississippi, possessing some of the poorest regions in the country.

West Virginia, an Appalachian state, has the highest overdose death rate in the country.

What used to be a problem with largely prescribed opiate drugs has now pivoted towards a large increase in the use of heroin.

Heroin has become a cheap alternative to prescription pain medication to many people. A recent drop in the use of opioid prescription medications coincided with a spike in heroin usage.

An oxycodone pill now costs around eighty dollars, while a dose of heroin costs a mere ten.

In the memoir Hillbilly Elegy, author J.D. Vance notes several times that prescription drugs were a problem not only in his town, but in his household, with his mother being an addict. He also noted that in his town, it was understood that heroin was thought to be more dangerous than prescription medications; it was a sign of desperation.

Along with the spike in heroin usage, the amount of overdoses has increased immensely as well.

“They’re struggling with using but not wanting to die,” a medic noted.

According to the New Yorker article, nearly all of the addicts in West Virginia are white, born in the area, and have modest to little income. High levels of poverty and joblessness produce psychological distress, which in turn, can be numbed by the use of heroin and prescription drugs. Unfortunately for many of these heroin users, it often leads to overdose.

Heroin can be found in powder and pill form. CC Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“That’s the scary part- that it’s becoming the norm,” a West Virginia resident said within the article, referring to heroin overdose.

The widespread and detrimental use of heroin on a person can also affect the family as a whole. As seen in Hillbilly Elegy, many children are often exposed to the traumatic effects of having a heroin addict for a parent. A report on child welfare and substance abuse claims that being raised by a drug-dependent parent leads to:

  • poor cognitive, delayed social and emotional development
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • other mental health symptoms
  • physical health issues
  • substance-use problems for the child

For families like J.D. Vance’s, growing up around drugs is a popular issue in their area. Recently, the drug of choice seems to be heroin, in replacement of prescription opioids.

“Heroin has become a social contagion,” claimed psychotherapist Peter Callahan.

How to solve the lethal problem? According to the New Yorker article, it will take time. However, the state of West Virginia has begun to treat the heroin epidemic as a public-health problem and aims to take further steps to diminish this deadly drug that takes the lives of so many Appalachia residents.

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

 

Men Disappear from Rust Belt as Unemployment and Addiction Rise

“They’re all on dope or they’re dying up here,” one Ohio woman says of men in a recent Atlantic piece, investigating the burden of male demise in the Rust Belt region (theatlantic.com).

Many cities in West Virginia and elsewhere have deindustrialized. CC Image courtesy of Tim Kiser on Wikimedia Commons.

As the article explains, the exodus of manufacturing jobs starting in the 1950s and 60s in industrialized regions of the Northeast, Midwest, and Appalachia sowed the seeds for a major crisis among Rust Belt males. As stable, respectable jobs departed, many faced chronic unemployment and/or completely departed from the workforce, discouraged from continued rejection. This is especially true in areas of Ohio, like Middletown, where Go Big Read author J.D. Vance grew up. In regions in southern Ohio, 42% of men are either jobless or out of the labor market, compared to the national average rate of roughly 20% (theatlantic.com). For those that found jobs, it was not in Dayton, Utica, or Pittsburgh, but in more service-based economies like Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York. Formerly impressive industrial cities of Detroit, Gary, Buffalo, Charleston (West Virginia), and Cincinnati now have deteriorating populations. In Detroit alone, the population loss has been astounding- diminishing from 1,850,000 to 675,000 over the course of the last 60 years (detroitnews.com). For those men that remained in Rust Belt cities and small towns, without opportunity for retraining, education, or employment, many turned to drugs, particularly opioids. As drug abuse has increased in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky, many men eventually lose their lives.

Detroit by the 1880s had emerged as a growing center for industry. In 1880, it was the 18th largest city in the U.S.

The Detroit skyline in 1942. At the time, it was the 4th largest city in the country and had booming industry.

Detroit, today, functions as the symbolic city of the Rust Belt. It is now not even in the top 20 most populous cities. CC Image courtesy of Albert Duce on Wikimedia Commons.

As the article highlights, deindustrialization, unemployment, and drug addiction have the Rust Belt devoid of men. For instance, in Kanawha County, West Viriginia, an area that has seen upwards of a 55% loss in manufacturing and some of the most concentrated rates of opioid overdoses in the country, women outnumber men 100:93 (whitehouse.gov). This is a dramatic divergence from the natural rate of roughly 100:99 and this trend is widespread throughout the region. With such losses, women in particular – wives, mothers, sisters, and partners of the unemployed and addicted men – are left to “pick up the pieces,” raising children and supporting households financially (theatlantic.com). The region has seen declining marriage rates and increasing proportions of single-parent homes.

Opioids have become an epidemic in recent years, particularly in the Rust Belt.

This single reality is hard for many: lack of second incomes, emotional support, and shared childcare responsibilities weigh heavy on an individual. Many women have defaulted on their mortgages after their partner’s overdose, while others care for upwards of five children by themselves. For anybody, whether man or woman, these kinds of Rust Belt burdens are overwhelming. In this year’s Go Big Read book, Hillbilly Elegy, J.D.’s Mamaw lived out this reality, supporting her grandchildren while her own daughter battled addiction. This immense responsibility always weighed on her.

Hopefully, heightened attention to the region’s struggles and the increasing need for action against opioid abuse will begin to reverse these heavy burdens many Rust Belt women face.

Morgan Olsen

Student Assistant