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Saturday, February 08, 2014

American dreams end too soon from drugs and guns

Once upon a time, young Americans dreamed of upward social mobility and improving economic status. It's a visionary concept familiar to aspirants as "The American Dream".

For too many, tragically, these "morning in America" images, brimming with the prospects of a future saturated with hope, and prosperity are drowned in illegal drugs and blown apart by unbridled use of guns.

Within the last 12 months, I've learned about a cluster of friends who lost dearly loved young adult children as a result of drug overdoses. They are unbelievably tragic and preventable deaths that, likely, wouldn't have happened as recently as 30 years ago, before illegal drug use became as pandemic as it has become today.

Although I don't know of anyone, personally, who has lost loved ones lives because of gun violence, these tragedies are occurring on an alarmingly regular basis. Gun violence deaths are impacting communities with increasing frequency. Moreover, the impact of the incidents are transcending generations of many families.

American media has given up on covering how to address gun control, just like the drug stories are no longer front page news. 

On any given day, it difficult to determine whether or not to report on drug violence or gun deaths, because there's plenty of news about both to report.

Now, the brilliant actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46, is the latest celebrity to die from a drug overdose while the problem continues to be growing in the US.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people that died from drug overdoses more than doubled from 17,000 to 38,000, according to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2009, for the first time in US history, more people died from drugs overdoses than from traffic accidents or firearms, although that is partly because the numbers of gun deaths and road deaths are both decreasing. So what is causing this epidemic?

The data suggests the number of people overdosing from pharmaceutical - or prescription - drugs has trebled over that decade, just as the quantity of prescription painkillers sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors' offices has quadrupled over the same period.

As a result in 2010, prescription drugs killed more than 22,100 people in the US, more than twice as many as cocaine and heroin combined.

Bar chart showing rise in overdoses
It's a difficult irony, but a source of these growing tragedies is our American dream itself. Affluence, the prosperity of The American Dream, allows people the purchase power to own multiple firearms and access to as many drugs as a person can obtain, legally or otherwise.

In the 19th century, tuberculosis was a common killer of young adults. Today, its the preventable outcome of drug overdoses and gun violence.

Modern medicine successfully met the challenges of preventing tuberculosis deaths. Unfortunately, it's been impossible to prevent drug abuse and gun violence. 

America's war on drugs has been lost. This was brutally evident when the actor Hoffman's environment was found to contain a reported 50 plus bags of heroin. 

Clearly, gun violence will continue until something is done to prevent the morbidity and mortality, treating the risk of injuries like public health dangers.  

American must treat gun violence and illegal drug use like diseases. Otherwise, as is already happening, the deadly maladies caused will continue to grow, and harm the lives of  more young people as well as their families and the communities where these people live.

Illegal drug use, addiction disorders and the growing danger of gun violence are ending The American Dream far too soon for too many brilliantly talented young people. These diseases have cures in early intervention, treatment and, most of all, the elimination of the sources of the dangers.

But, our American news media must continue to keep the pressure on the public, so they will demand an end to these epidemics.

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