Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University professor, minister and author, offers a view of the role of race in responses to the opioid epidemic following an appearance at the University of Memphis on Feb. 21, 2017. Wochit
If anyone doubts that the abuse of prescription opioid drugs has reached epidemic proportions in this country, they should have attended last week’s Town Hall Rally in Southaven.
A coalition of state healthcare and law enforcement agencies teamed with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI to host the event, just one stop in a statewide series of meetings.
Everyone who spoke prefaced their remarks with the reality that they, like the public at large, have more questions than answers. They also acknowledged without exception that, as trite as it might sound, it really will have to be a team effort to make progress.
Even to those for whom the extent of the problem is on the radar — and for many it isn’t, if they haven’t been personally touched by it in some way — the numbers scrolling across the screen and off the tongues of presenters were breathtaking in scope:
- Between Jan. 1, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2016, Mississippi reported 563 drug overdose deaths, 481 opioid-related.
- The number of heroin deaths between 2013 and 2016 rose more than 2,000 percent. That isn’t a typo — a two followed by three zeroes is correct.
- More than 80 percent of heroin addicts began with prescription drugs, making the link between reducing prescription opioid abuse and reducing heroin use pretty clear.
- More than 200 million dosage units of opioids were dispensed in Mississippi in 2016. That number equates to about 70 dosage units for every man, woman and child in the state of about 2.9 million.
- The U.S., with 5 percent of the world’s population, consumes about 80 percent of the opioids manufactured worldwide and 99.7 percent of all hydrocodone products.
- And the statistic that perhaps put the extent of the problem in the most understandable terms — the 52,404 overdose deaths nationwide in 2016 is the equivalent of a loaded 747 passenger jet crashing and killing everyone on board every 4.5 days.
The sad takeaway from it all is that there is a clear and undeniable link between the abuse of out-of-control prescription opioid drugs and heroin use, and that the problem has reached the point that justifies considering it a national emergency.
As one presenter noted when comparing the number of deaths to airliner crashes: If a 747 were really crashing every 4.5 days, the federal government would be grounding air traffic and taking planes apart to find out what’s going on.
Yet, with drug abuse, it’s difficult to get the public at large interested. Part of the problem is stigma, the stubborn belief that drug abuse is a self-inflicted problem by people “getting what the they deserve.”
It becomes increasingly clear, however, as the numbers continue to grow that it’s a problem affecting all social classes, all education levels and all ethnic groups. Certainly, law enforcement and the court system play a role in arresting and prosecuting those who distribute drugs illegally. But, as a Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agent noted, “we cannot arrest our way out of this problem.”
No one denies the legitimate need for opiate drugs to relieve pain and suffering for the chronically ill and the dying. But far-too-liberal use of the powerful drugs by doctors and manufacturers who profit handsomely has made it too easy for them to fall into the hands, often innocently enough at the start, of those who don’t need them.
The result is a rapidly vanishing cross-section of society — sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters — who all too often fall into a trap that’s virtually impossible to escape.
All that remains are the loved ones left behind to tell the tragic stories, which will hopefully help stem the flow as others become more aware.
Amid the chaos of the first day of school, there are tearful goodbyes and happy reunions as parents drop their kids off at Hope-Sullivan Elementary in Southaven. Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal
Singin’ back-to-school blues
Finding a kid who is eager to give up summer vacation and return to the classroom has never been easy. It still isn’t.
But Southaven’s Hope-Sullivan Elementary found a novel way to ease the sting a little — not for the students, but for the parents who also were a little teary-eyed over sending their babies off to kindergarten.
The school’s second “Boo Hoo Breakfast” on the first day of school Aug. 4 gave parents the chance to stop by the cafeteria for a doughnut and juice after parting ways with their little angels.
Soothing the anxieties of the kids was left in the capable hands of teachers who, for the most part, have experience in dealing with anxious newcomers to the whole school experience. But for the adults, the mix of doughnuts and commiserating with other parents going through the same thing was a welcomed surprise.
Because after all, what difficult life experience hasn’t been made a little easier by a doughnut?
Gather 2017 Women’s Conference
The Gather 2017 Women’s Conference will be held at the Hernando Peforming Arts Center Aug. 26, bringing together DeSoto County Christian women for a spiritual retreat, of sorts.
Donna Gaines, wife of Pastor Steve Gaines at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, will be the keynote speaker. Steve Gaines is also president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Tickets are available for $25 per person at tinatatum.com/gather-2017. The event is 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Perfomring Arts Center, 805 Dilworth Lane.