Health and Medicine

Why are Americans drugging themselves to death?

By Damon Linker, The Week

Americans are fond of calling the United States the greatest country in the world. But that doesn’t mean the sentiment is universally shared. Critics point to various measures that raise doubts about the judgment: high rates of childhood poverty, sky-high levels of gun violence, a health-care system that covers fewer people at greater per capita cost than any other country in the world.

But perhaps the most shocking statistic of all is how many Americans have been dying of drug overdoses in recent years. As recently as 20 years ago, roughly 20,000 Americans a year were dying of drug abuse. By 2011, the number had doubled. It had doubled again, to 80,000, by 2019. And now, the government has released figures showing that during the 12-month period ending in April 2021, more than 100,000 Americans died from overdoses.

a chart

The Washington Post

A five-fold increase in two decades is an astonishing statistic. Why is it happening?

The immediate reaction online to this grim record, especially on the right, focused on the pandemic, and above all government-enforced lockdowns, as the culprit. Shut down the economy, tell people to stay in their homes with few opportunities for social interaction for months on end, and many will float away into a depressive, drug-induced oblivion that sometimes ends in accidental or intentional death.

There’s probably some truth to this: The pandemic has taken a significant psychological toll on many of us. But of course, drug deaths were rising sharply before the pandemic. Maybe we wouldn’t have hit 100,000 deaths in a 12-month period until 2022 or 2023 without a public health emergency. But we most likely would have gotten there eventually — because something much bigger than the pandemic has been contributing to steady increases in drug overdose deaths.


Categories: Health and Medicine

Leave a Reply