Every day, 125 Americans die from a drug overdose. Because the victims are mostly white, presidential candidates like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie are suddenly talking about the addicts in their families.
It was a Nobel Prize winner who debunked the cliché that primarily blacks die on account of drug use in the U.S. In December, the economist Angus Deaton, with his colleague Anne Case, showed that more and more white U.S. citizens are not living to be 50 years old – and that is primarily due to drug and alcohol poisoning. The Princeton study caused a sensation because it is especially impoverished and poorly educated whites between 45 and 54 who are dying young or committing suicide. Latinos and African Americans, by contrast, are generally living longer and longer.
A new analysis by the New York Times of 60 million obituaries now shows that many young whites are, astonishingly, dying from drug consumption. The number of white U.S. citizens between 25 and 34 years old who lose their lives due to an overdose of drugs or painkillers is increasing so heavily that the increase can only be compared to the HIV-AIDS epidemic of the '80s and '90s.
Drugs were consumed back then, too; however, it was primarily African-Americans who took crack in the ghettos of big cities and often died of overdoses. Yet since the beginning of the 21st century, small towns and villages in rural America have also been affected. No state is spared and, even among whites, the death rate is rising in all age groups – more heavily for men than for women.
“With this epidemic, it’s crossed every boundary. It’s young to old, rich to poor, white to black,” Ted Gatsas told the New York Times. The Republican is the mayor of Manchester, the capital of New Hampshire. In the meantime, in the little city on the east coast, more people are dying of an overdose (321) than in automobile accidents. And because the primaries are taking place there in February, all presidential hopefuls are suddenly talking about the drug epidemic – from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton to Jeb Bush.
Many Americans who have lost family members ask themselves, “Why not until now?” In 2014, 47,055 U.S. citizens died of an overdose; that’s 125 a day. Countrywide, 7000 Americans a day are treated in hospital emergency rooms for misuse of painkillers – with a rising trend.
Conservative Politicians Know, Too: Anyone Can Become Addicted
But now, a great deal is in motion: Even the Republicans, who started the “War on Drugs” 45 years ago and continued it together with the Democrats, are openly speaking about the topic. Jeb Bush isn’t only telling voters that his daughter was addicted to drugs (she even landed in prison because she hid crack in her shoe), but he also had an election ad produced with the message: “I've experienced it [the same thing as you] as a father."
Carly Fiorina also often reports that she lost a stepdaughter on account of drugs – and, therefore, called for better help for addicts in the TV debate. Chris Christie talks very emotionally about his mother who smoked her entire life, “No one said she got what she deserved. Yet somehow if it’s heroin, or cocaine, or alcohol we say, well they decided, they’re getting what they deserve.”
The governor tells of his highly intelligent friend from law school who had lots of money and a terrific family. After a sports injury, he received painkillers – and became addicted. Ten years later he was found dead in a motel. Chris Christie, whose political talent cannot be overlooked in this video ends with the words, “By every measure that we define success in this country, this guy had it … he’s a drug addict and he couldn’t get help … it can happen to anyone.”
Insufficient Supervision Leads to Massive Scale Consumption of Painkillers
Since the middle of the '90s, many doctors have been prescribing the medicine OxyContin (containing oxycodone) for patients who complain of knee or back pain. This opioid has the effect of heroin and makes patients addicted. Lax supervision by governmental authorities led doctors to ignore the danger of OxyContin for a long time. The manufacturer Purdue claimed that “less than one percent” of patients became addicted. Retirees often sold the painkiller off to junkies who craved “Hillbilly Heroin.”
One reason why considerably fewer blacks and Latinos are addicted to painkillers – according to the judgement of experts – is that doctors prescribed OxyContin and similar preparations for these groups less frequently – also out of concern that these medications would land on the black market.
Naturally, it says a great deal about U.S. society and its politicians that this health problem is being discussed so openly now that so many white citizens are being affected. At the beginning of January, Ohio’s Governor John Kasich, likewise a conservative presidential hopeful, acknowledged this failure: “I wonder how African-Americans must have felt when drugs were awash in their community and nobody watched.”
For decades, drug addicts were branded as “morally weak,” but in the election campaign the word choice is changing: More frequently the talk is of “sickness“ instead of “addiction.” Up until now, most of the Republicans – differently from Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – have shied away from demands to lessen the punishment for possession of marijuana or crack. These are more frequently consumed by Latinos and African-Americans.
Yet the fact alone that so many whites across the entire country are not ashamed to speak about their drug-addicted relatives and colleagues at public events offers the chance that America’s [way of] dealing with drugs will change somewhat. Too many citizens want to shake up the politicians in Washington – and they’re getting more attention than ever.