Essay on Causes of the Opioid Crisis

Published: 2021/11/05
Number of words: 732

The use and misuse of intoxicating substances has been a long-standing issue in the United States. Every decade seems to have it’s own epidemic: heroin in the 1960’s, cocaine in the 80’s, methamphetamines in the 2000’s, and today, opioids. However, this current period of endemic abuse is reaching levels never before seen. In 2015 alone, 52,404 people died of a drug overdose (Pacula & Powell, pg. 438), and the situation has only gotten worse as more and more people succumb to addiction. This is a complex, multi-dimensional issue that is difficult to pin to one root cause, but there are several factors that contributed to this disaster. Two of the main ones are unscrupulous drug suppliers flooding the market with cheap, easily accessible products and socioeconomic stressors setting the stage for the cycle of addiction. An article from the Journal of Public Policy and Management, A Supply-Side Perspective on the Opioid Crisis, argues that the former is the underlying cause of the epidemic. A Harvard Business Review article titled  To Combat the Opioid Crisis, We Must Be Honest About All it’s Causes says that, although suppliers are certainly a large part of the problem, the main reason the epidemic has reached this scale is because the economic and social situation of the country is making it nigh on impossible to escape the lure of addiction.

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Both articles can agree that the problem of the opioid epidemic cannot be blamed on a single entity. Some of the factors overlap, some cause each other, and some are exacerbated by the other. The Harvard Business article does concede to say that the oversupplying in the market was the driving factor in the genesis of the crisis, but the reason it has continued for so long and with such intensity is because of the socioeconomic situation (Blumenthal & Seerval, pg. 2). This seems a fair assumption, given that poor, densely populated areas are strongly correlated with higher rates of addiction. It is much more difficult to receive the necessary care when an individual is struggling just to make ends meet. With opioids being so cheap- a staggering .90 cents out of pocket per pill (Pacula & Powell, pg.439)- it makes sense that people would continue to feed their addiction instead of seeking the embarrassing, necessarily expensive treatment options.

Of course, individuals would need to get ahold of these medications in the first place to become addicted. Pacula and Powell argue that the aggressive marketing strategies of prescribers are to blame for the opioid epidemic. The article says that ‘–providers were incentivized to inappropriately prescribe opioids to patients.’ (Pacula & Powell, pg. 440). Misleading information was relied on to persuade ‘opioid-naive’ patients out of buying the safer alternatives. These unscrupulous tactics allowed for the rapid, widespread distribution of medication to a body of people who were ignorant to the risks. Without the medication available in the first place, the epidemic would not have been able to take hold.

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Both articles present sound theories on the most critical cause of the opioid crisis. If either factor were not present, the problem would have never reached this scale. Flooding the market with medication, coupled with the economic and social hardship gripping the nation, enabled the epidemic to take hold, and they have only continued to make it worse. What’s more, both articles raise a critical issue about the future. As attention on this drug problem is rising, laws are being made in an attempt to stop more people from being prescribed unnecessary medication, but no steps are being made to treat those already in the cycle. Addicted people are turning to even more dangerous alternatives to sate themselves. Morphine and fentanyl overdoses are on the rise, heroin overdoses have more than quadrupled since 2015 (Pacula & Powell, pg. 441). One thing both articles are emphatic about is that cutting off the supply is not going to solve the crisis. The people already victimized need to be treated, or one epidemic is simply going to give way to another.

Works Cited

Pacula, Rosalie Liccardo, and Powell, David. “A Supply-Side Perspective On The Opioid Crisis.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol. 37, no. 2, 2018, pp. 438–444.

Blumenthal, David, and Seerval, Shanoor. “To Combat the Opioid Crisis, We Must Be Honest About All it’s Causes” Harvard Business Review, 2018, pp.1-4.

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