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Pills Now Kill More People in America than Guns and Car Crashes

writer: Abby Haglage source:

These numbers make it the leading cause ofinjury-related death in America, killing more than 46,000 people in 2013 alone.

In a now-viral video, New JerseyGovernor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie made a heartfeltplea to Americans about our treatment of people with drug addiction. “We haveto stop judging,” he said. “And start giving them the tools they need to getbetter.”

The video is increasingly relevant with the release of theDrug Enforcement Administration’s 2015 NationalDrug Threat Assessment (NDTA),which found drug overdoses have surpassed firearm- and car-related deaths everyyear since 2008. These numbers make it the leading cause of injury-relateddeath in America, killing more than 46,000 people in 2013 alone.

“Sadly this report confirms what we’ve known for some time:drug abuse is ending too many lives too soon and destroying families andcommunities,” acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said in a statement. “We must reach young people at an even earlier age andteach them about its many dangers and horrors.”

Rosenberg’s statement falls in line with the DEA’s zerotolerance view on drugs, which focuses more on anti-drug education thantreatment. Many—including drugpolicy experts—have argued that statements likethat one are problematic, suggesting that those who use illicit drugs deservewhat’s coming to them.

Christie reacted similarly by using an example of hismother, who was diagnosed with lung cancer at 71. Her disease, the directresult of her use of tobacco, was treated as a tragedy; medical problems thatheroin and opioid abusers get, he said, are treated like a punishment.

“We know the lung cancer was caused by the smoking,”Christie said of his mom’s diagnosis. While she tried “everything” she could toquit, she was unable to—something he said she, rightfully, wasn’t penalizedfor. “No one came to me and said, ‘Hey, listen, your mother was dumb. Shestarted smoking when she was 16. She’s getting what she deserves’…No one saidthat.”

Christie argued that heroin andopioid abusers, who have tripled in the past three years, should be given thesame sympathy—but aren’t. “Somehow, if it’s heroin or cocaine or alcohol wesay…‘Well, they decided. They’re getting what they deserved,’” he said. Thosewho are pro-life, he argued, should be pro-life all the way, even when peoplemake bad decisions. “The 16-year-old teenage girl on the floor of the countylockup, addicted to heroin, I’m pro-life for her too.”

According to the DEA’s report, America’s current treatmentof heroin and opioid addicts isn’t working. An estimated 120 people die eachday as the result of drug overdose deaths, most of which are the result ofheroin or opioid use. Over 16,000 people died in 2013, the most recent year forwhich there is data of an overdose from opioids. That’s more deaths thancocaine and heroin overdoses combined. The number remains high despite a slightdecrease in the use of opioids, which the study found to directly correlatewith an increase in heroin use (a cheaper, often easier to acquire option).

Heroin overdoses will continue to be a growing problem inthe U.S., with DEA chief Rosenberg stating that the levels of opioid and heroinoverdoses have reached “epidemic levels.” Part of the growing problem withheroin appears to be the increasing availability of the drug, with heroinseizures in the U.S. doubling since 2010.

Besides the wide availability, the drug can sell for as low as $3 onthe black market, a far lower number than the $30-$60 per pill that’s chargedfor painkillers. The NDTA found the majority of these drugs—as well as cocaine,methamphetamine, and marijuana—to be supplied by Mexican cartels.

At the end of Christie’s speech, he zeroed in on thepersonal story of a good friend from law school who became addicted to opioidsafter suffering a back injury. Christie detailed how the spiral into addictionruined every aspect of his friend’s life, causing him to lose his marriage, hislaw license, his ability to see his three daughters, and his home.

After a decade-long battle to fight the addiction, includingmany stays in rehab, his friend died of an overdose at age 52. Christie saidhis story speaks to the universality of addiction, and the need for treatmentsrather than penalties. “It can happen to anyone,” he said. “So we need to starttreating people in this country, and not jailing them…because every life isprecious.”