Opioid abuse toll is far worse than 9/11

Approximately 142 Americans die from opioids every day, a death toll equal to 9/11 every three weeks. Would Americans accept fatal terror attacks every three weeks with so little urgency?

More people are dying of drug overdoses in Connecticut than from homicides, suicides and motor vehicle crashes combined. What will it take before the state and nation finally confront the problem with the urgency it requires?

In 2016, 917 people in Connecticut died of accidental drug overdoses, compared to 87 homicides, 387 suicides and 319 motor vehicle accidents. That’s staggering enough. But the problem is getting worse: Through the first half of 2017, 539 people died from drug overdoses, an increase that could mean a new record in 2017.

In 2012, by comparison, 355 people died of drug overdoses. The rate has nearly tripled in five years.

Drug addiction is one of those problems that many people believe themselves immune to. Those who simply make the right choices, the thinking goes, won’t have to worry about dying of a drug overdose.

But the current opioid crisis is different. Its victims aren’t always recreational drug users. Anyone who falls and breaks a bone and takes a few pills to ease the pain during recovery — moms and dads, doctors and lawyers, teachers and laborers alike — could soon find themselves in the grips of a raging and seemingly insatiable addiction.

It’s a mammoth public health crisis that demands a much more aggressive response than it’s received.

The biggest factor in the recent increase could be the prevalence of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid much more potent than heroin. It was involved in 322 deaths in the first half of the year, up sharply from previous years.

A look at national numbers puts it into perspective: “With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks,” said a recent report from a presidential commission studying the issue.

It’s safe to say that if terrorists carried out a 9/11-scale attack every three weeks, the nation would respond with great force.
One recent estimate of national data put the number of fatal drug overdoses in 2016 at more than 59,000 people. That’s more deaths than the AIDS crisis claimed in 1995, its worst year.

A few weeks ago, President Trump announced that he planned to declare a national emergency in response to the opioid crisis. He has yet to act on that, but there’s no doubt that the force of federal money and a coordinated campaign would go a long way to winning the battle.

Members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation have been vocal in their calls for increased treatment programs, expanded access to the opioid-countering drug naloxone, increased funding for Medicaid to help people get treatment and more. They should continue to pressure the administration to act.

The federal government must get involved and fight this battle head-on. Mr. Trump, along with the Department of Health and Human Services, should take any measures necessary.

The response to the opioid crisis should be no less than the response to 9/11 or to the AIDS crisis. Moves to bring naloxone to first responders, to discourage doctors from unnecessarily prescribing these dangerous drugs, and to bring easier access to treatment programs are all good. But so much more needs to be done.