Our Views: What will the opioid epidemic look like in retrospect?

In this Friday, June 1, 2018, photo, small vials of fentanyl are shown in the inpatient pharmacy at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. Amid the nation's opioid epidemic, hospitals are struggling to get widely used injected pain medicines because of ongoing supply shortages. The shortages affect just about every corner of the hospital, from the operating room and emergency department.

In today’s edition, the Mesabi Daily News launched the first part of a far-reaching look at the opioid epidemic in Minnesota, St. Louis County and the Iron Range. The first part that is featured today takes an over arching view of the epidemic, which was ravaged rural areas nationwide, while offering the unique perspective of a former addict now 20 months into recovery.

As efforts to dull the impact of opioids continue, we have to wonder how the nation landed here.

Drug use didn’t go away after crack became less prevalent from its mainstream days in the 1990s. The same will be said for opioids as this drug issue evolves over the next decade into the next epidemic.

But the opioid epidemic at its roots is a much more complex issue than crack and cocaine ever were. Pharmaceutical companies, namely Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, reportedly knew their drug was highly-addictive and covered up the reports of its impacts, as reported by The New York Times and alleged in a recent lawsuit filed by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.

She also has lawsuits against pharma companies alleging they acted unethical and illegally when approaching doctors about their brand and medications.

In the early retrospect of the opioid epidemic, it appears more like the big tobacco settlements that led to sweeping regulations, warnings and restrictions in advertising.

The impacts are far greater — the numbers staggering.

Nationally in 2018, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, more than 115 people in the United States died every day after overdosing on opioids. In 2015, 572 people from Minnesota died from opioid abuse. In St. Louis County, the reported number of overdose deaths is about 20 times higher on average from 2011-2016 than from 2002-2010.

As we continue through this series, we’ll take a look at how local agencies are handling the rise in opioid abuse, how the life of addicts impacts the family and social structure, how the changes in prescribing methods is impacting people in real need of pain medication.

The opioid epidemic may be the greatest singular issue impacting this generation of Americans and Minnesotans. Think of the cost involved: Counties pay for jailing offenders, treatment programs and other social services needs, especially when addictions and overdoses split families in the system.

People lose their jobs causing fewer to make meaningful contributions to local economies. More people on end up on medicaid, food stamps and other assistance programs.

And more end up dead.

The path forward on this issue is still being determined. What road our local leaders and experts take could have a generational impact on users, their families and our government systems.

President Trump already stopped short of calling opioids a national emergency, thus blocking states from accessing disaster relief funds. That would be critical to a state like Minnesota and St. Louis County, which has walked a tightrope on social service-related budget inflations the last two years.

It’s important our elected officials work together and think outside the box to meaningfully change the outcomes for so many battling addictions, and their families.

This is not an issue that next generation wants to look at in retrospect and wonder why we didn’t do more now.

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