It is this casual use of words such as “epidemic,” “addict,” and even “opioid” that is contributing to a common belief in the American public, which is that we are in the midst of a prescription pain medicine crisis of epic proportion, and that if we do not do something quickly, the sky is most definitely going to fall
One might have thought that the entire nation was in the grips of a public health disaster due to opioids, but the actual numbers vary.
One of the words that causes confusion is the word “epidemic.” For many, an epidemic connotes the idea that huge portions of the population are suffering.
Yet, that’s not what epidemic means. According to a medical dictionary, an epidemic is “the occurence of more cases of a disease than would be expected in a community or region during a given time period.”
Epidemics do mean that there has been an increase in cases of disease, but they do not, as the media seems to use the word, mean that nearly everyone is sick.
One headline in a recent newspaper carried the headline, “Opioid-related deaths surge, pushing morgues to capacity.”
That headline implies the bodies stacked up like cordwood, and that there is mass death and destruction taking place because of opioids.
It is also crucial to note that heroin is not only considered an opioid, the figures for “prescription opioid overdose” included heroin deaths
The numbers are not easy to interpret.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that 43,982 people died from drug poisoning in 2013.
But, the number of deaths from opioid medicine was 16,235 and the number of deaths from heroin overdose was 8,257.
If you add those two last numbers together, you see that there are thousands of drug poisoning deaths that are not accounted for through opioids or heroin.
It’s why you can read in some articles that there are 28,000 opioid-related deaths per year in one place, 16,00 in another, or that there were 44,000 drug deaths.
The media has not been as careful as it needs to be in distinguishing heroin deaths from opioid deaths, nor even talking about what causes the other drug deaths
In a document put out by the CDC, the number of deaths caused by opioids and heroin is emphasized, although at one point, after continually referring to the “drug overdose deaths of 47,055” in 2014, someone would have to read further to see that the percentage of these deaths caused by opioids and heroin is 61 percent, leaving 39 percent unaccounted for.
Historically, CDC has programmatically characterized all opioid pain reliever deaths (natural and semisynthetic opioids, methadone, and other synthetic opioids) as “prescription” opioid overdoses.
The CDC counts heroin as a “prescription opioid.”
The study also documents that it is near impossible to distinguish “legitimate” and “illicit” Fentanyl.
So, again, while it is common to lump everything together under the term “prescription opioid,” those numbers also include street drugs that were never issued through a prescription pad.
It is also important to look at the figures in context.
28,000 deaths is significant. The number most often cited is 44 people per day.
But compare that number to deaths from cancer, and you see that the annual death rate from cancer is 480,000 or 1200 per day.
There is a huge difference between 44 per day and 1200 per day. And, consider that alcohol is responsible for 88,000 deaths per year, and one-third of traffic fatalities involve drunk drivers. Alcohol is not banned
And, to further complicate matters, the CDC admits that someone who died from a combination of heroin and prescription opioids in their system would go into both sets of statistics, thus making the “heroin” deaths and “opioid” deaths numbers confusing as some people appear to be counted twice.
In the past decade, however, 90 percent of those beginning heroin are white.
In other words, new heroin users are primarily white and primarily living in the suburbs.
It bears asking whether the constant emphasis in the press being in crisis and an out-of-control epidemic has more to do with WHO is being affected rather than the number of people affected.