America and Americans are facing significant problems. Some stare us in the face and are met with shrugged shoulders while others are more pernicious but excused.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 115 Americans die from opioid overdoses every day. A congressional committee recently found that one town in West Virginia received, on average, 1.75 pills of hydrocodone and oxycodone per person, per day, over the course of 10 years.
The states most significantly affected are both politically “red” and “blue,” overtly religious and secular. Kentucky and Massachusetts both have an overdose rate three times higher than Iowa. The rates in Utah and Vermont are twice as high as Iowa.
Over three months ago, the opioid crisis was declared a national public health emergency. Meanwhile, the Office of Drug Control Policy and the Drug Enforcement Administration both lack nominees to head the agencies. The director of the Centers for Disease Control stepped down after recusing herself from most decisions and eventually stepping down after investing in tobacco stocks.
In many countries of the world, one can get opioids legally. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime report for last year notes that while the U.S. is 4.4 percent of the world's total population, it accounts for nearly one-quarter of the drug overdoses internationally. What is it about American society that is causing this epidemic?
Partly due to opioid overdoses, life expectancy in the United States has fallen two years in a row. It is now below that of Chile and Costa Rica, and running neck and neck with Cuba.
As this is being written, Congress is working to pass its fifth continuing resolution of the fiscal year. Like the child who eats dessert before the main course, federal leaders can enact tax cuts but seem unable to provide the resources to operate the core functions of government for longer than a Kardashian marriage.
Last December, Congressman Austin Scott pleaded with Navy and Marine officials to help stop Congress from passing continuing resolutions. He said, “Make us stop this madness. Until you hold Congress’ feet to the fire, you are going to have to watch our capabilities further degrade.” An elected federal official actually asked members of the armed forces to make him do his job.
The failure to provide funding prevents effective operations for a wide range of functions – judicial, law enforcement, public health and more. At the same time, people in these agencies are under extensive criticism by national political leadership.
These are among a long list of significant issues. Many of them are literally matters of life and death. Perhaps the most concerning issue is the ambivalence surrounding them. If they were to happen in other countries, we would expect leaders to address them constructively. That they happen in a technologically and economically advanced country like America should be distressing. That they aren’t being seriously addressed is disheartening.
It has become far easier to point blame than accept responsibility. It is easier to label others. Not just their ideas, but individuals and groups. Behavior that results in discipline at school is accepted as political discourse.
We are feeling the effects of what a recent RAND Corporation study identified as “Truth Decay.” The report notes this causes a “vicious cycle of mistrust among citizens,” and poses a “vital threat to American democracy.” At what point do we become unable to address the common issues that face us? At what point do we refuse to work with others?
Next week: Charese Yanney