Opioids, a mass killer we’re meeting with a shrug

The opiod epidemic ruins lives, families and communities. Nicholas Kristof urges Americans to stop being complacent.

About as many Americans are expected to die this year of drug overdoses as died in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

For more than 100 years, death rates have been dropping for Americans — but now, because of opioids, death rates are rising again. We as a nation are going backward, and drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

“There’s no question that there’s an epidemic and that this is a national public health emergency,” Dr. Leana Wen, the health commissioner of Baltimore, told me. “The number of people overdosing is skyrocketing, and we have no indication that we’ve reached the peak.”

Yet our efforts to address this scourge are pathetic.

We responded to World War II with the storming of Normandy, and to Sputnik with our moon shot. Yet we answer this current national menace with … a Republican plan for health care that would deprive millions of insurance and lead to even more deaths!

More on President Donald Trump’s fumbling of this problem in a moment. But it’s bizarre that Republicans should be complacent about opioids, because the toll is disproportionately higher in red states — and it affects everyone.

Mary Taylor, the Republican lieutenant governor of Ohio and now a candidate for governor, has acknowledged that both her sons, Joe and Michael, have struggled with opioid addiction, resulting in two overdoses at home, urgent calls for ambulances and failed drug rehab efforts. Good for her for speaking up.

It should be a national scandal that only 10 percent of Americans with opioid problems get treatment. This reflects our failed insistence on treating opioids as a criminal justice problem rather than as a public health crisis.

A Times investigation published this month estimated that more than 59,000 Americans died in 2016 of…

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