2016 has been voted one of the worst years ever. For many, it was a year of great loss. Some of these losses included beloved cultural icons, like David Bowie, Prince and Carrie Fisher. Looking back on the year, one major public health crisis stands out: the opioid epidemic. Statistics on opioid deaths for this year have yet to be published. However, 2016 represents a major turning point in awareness about drug addiction and the havoc it wreaks.
2016: Worst year
Earlier this month [December], the National Center for Health Statistics released some shocking news. For the first time in decades, the U.S. life expectancy is down.
In an age of advanced medical technology and scientific knowledge, the decline in life expectancy is concerning. The three suspected culprits? Obesity, opioid overdoses, and suicide.
2016 was certainly a bad year in terms of drug addiction. Rock legend Prince overdosed on Fentanyl, a controversial opioid pain medication that is 50 times stronger than heroin. The United States is in the middle of a major opioid epidemic. On an average day in the United States, 78 people die from prescription opioid medications.
In 2015, opioids killed more than 33,000 people. This number includes both prescription opioids, like morphine, Fentanyl, and Vicodin as well as heroin.
In the past decade, these substances have claimed the lives of many beloved artists and household names, such as Phillip Seymore Hoffman (2014), Cory Montieth (2013), Amy Winehouse (2011), DJ AM (2010), Michael Jackson (2009), and Heath Ledger (2008).
Perhaps because of Prince’s death and the incessant warnings from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the opioid epidemic really took the limelight in 2016. As this year winds to a close, it is obvious that one of the real antagonists of the season is drug abuse, especially prescription pain medications and other opioid products.
While it is impossible to tell how many more lives will be lost without safe, accessible pain-management options, it is relieving to know that alternative treatments are gaining media attention.
Though over a 100,000 have been lost to drug abuse and opioid addiction in the past several years, safer alternatives to pain medication are making themselves known. Already, states with medical cannabis laws have reduced opioid-related overdoses by 25%.
A recent study found that the same states were less likely to have opioid-related traffic fatalities. More research still shows that patients in medical cannabis states and college students are putting down the painkillers in favor of the natural herb.
Also in 2016, public voices stopped the ban on kratom, which the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) attempted to classify as a schedule 1 controlled substance. Kratom is a plant related to coffee that has potential as an opioid replacement in painkiller dependent adults. The leaf is often used to make pain-relieving teas.
With life expectancy down and the rate of overdoses up, it’s safe to say that the United States is coming out of 2016 in the midst of a public health crisis. Fortunately, as of 2017, eight states now offer legal recreational cannabis and over half of US states offer some sort of medical access program.
Some politicians have been extremely outspoken about the herb as a possible way to rein in the outbreak of prescription overdoses across the country. While 2016 was a real downer of a year, in this one aspect, perhaps the nation will see some improvements.