The scale of America’s opioid epidemic is shocking.
It is the deadliest drug overdose crisis in US history. In 2016 alone, drug overdoses killed more Americans than the entire Vietnam War and car crashes, gun violence, and HIV/AIDS ever did in a single year. In total, more than 170 people are estimated to die from overdoses every day in the US, and most of the deaths are linked to opioids.
But so far, there’s been a lack of policy action to end the opioid epidemic. Much of what has been done has focused on reducing the amount of prescription painkillers out there, yet the latest federal data shows prescriptions in 2015 were still three times what they were in 1999. Other prevention efforts have focused on stopping heroin and fentanyl from entering the US, but they have so far failed to make a dent in the flow of these drugs. And experts say President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration will fall far short of what’s necessary to deal with the crisis, because it fails to add significant new funding to the issue.
The most significant bill passed by Congress over the crisis appropriated $1 billion to drug treatment over two years — far from the tens of billions a year that studies suggest the crisis actually costs. And Congress could still revive a health care bill that, by repealing Obamacare, would cut access to addiction treatment for potentially millions of people struggling with drug addiction.
But even if Congress does appropriate the money to combat the crisis, do we know what to do with it? Opioid addiction is a complex, stubborn problem — and history is littered with policies meant to fight drug use that only made the situation worse.