There has been a great deal of attention given to changing gun laws in 2018 because of the tragic and inexcusable mass shootings that have taken place this year. As of February 21st, there have been 34 mass shooting events, most notably the school shooting in Florida by a disgruntled student.
However, addiction still causes more death in the United States than guns and no one is talking about it anymore. There was a time when every talking head on CNN and Fox News would talk about the "opioid epidemic". Politicians would join in to get their face on TV and say a fluff piece about how horrible it is. Now, guns have taken over the conversation.
We are looking at, within weeks of a horrible tragedy, better regulation and sweeping gun laws, changes by companies (Dick's Sporting Goods will no longer sell "assault style firearms" and some retailers are raising the minimum age to purchase), even the President of the United Stated, Donald Trump, is fighting FOR banning "bump-stocks". You have seen this country do a 180 when it comes to firearms, and right fully so.
So, why have we not seen this kind of movement from them with drug addiction? Below are the statistics, compared to one another.
Opioid fatalities are the fastest rising cause of death in the United States over the past two years. 2015 saw record highs concerning the epidemic. 2016 and 2017 respectively broke the record of the previous year. In 2016, opioids killed approximately 46,000 people in the United States. Provisional numbers for 2017 show the number of deaths for each month increasing, meaning that the epidemic is still getting worse.
Drug Overdose Deaths
2016 saw more than 64,000 deaths attributable to a drug overdose, with statistics tallied by the National Center for Health Statistics. Full numbers for 2017 are not available currently, but all signs put the nation on pace for an even higher number to be reported when the numbers are finally tallied.
Deaths from Alcoholism
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that an average of 80,000 people in the United States die each year from alcohol related incidents. Vehicle deaths involving alcohol outpace gun deaths by itself, as more than 20,000 people per year on average die because of an event involving alcohol and a motor vehicle.
A real time fatality counter measures the death toll of alcohol related incidents as they occur in 2018. So far, the months of January and February have seen more alcohol related deaths than all of the gun deaths that were recorded in 2017, with the number showing at 16,104 from January 1, 2018 to Feburary 28, 2018.
The Gun Violence Archive (GVA) tallies statistics on gun deaths in the United States. The GVA reported that a gun was the cause of death for at least 15,549 people in 2017. The number was 15,088 for 2016. 344 people were killed in mass shooting incidents in 2017, while 383 were killed in a mass shooting in 2016.
The gun death rate also broke its own record in 2016. That year, 12 out of every 100,000 American citizens was a victim of gun violence that ended in a fatality. Total incidents logged, number of injuries, number of children killed from ages 0-17, and murder/suicides also increased in 2017 over 2016.
Drug and gun deaths have been compared by many reputable research companies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). All studies point to the same conclusion - drugs are a much worse problem than guns in terms of fatalities caused. This is a trend that many people may find surprising because of the media attention on the much more bloody mass shootings. However, looking at the statistics tells a much different story.
Its very clear that we have a problem, but what is the solution? Regulation of alcohol and perscription drugs? No. You treat it. Treat the illness, like we would anything else.
The issue is not one size fits all. Some people can take a painkiller after surgery and be okay. Some can have a glass of wine with dinner and be okay. However, others can not. So, why not increase the funding for treatment. As the owner of an addiction marketing agency, I speak with centers everyday about the number of calls they get from people with Medicare, Medicaid, or no insurance at all (about 90%). These people are dying for help, but they have no where to go. If they do live in an area with decent care for Medicare or Medicaid, the wait list is months to get in the door. Our consulting side has at least 2-3 calls a week for people looking to open a state funded addiction center until they learn about the reimbursement rates, which are going lower and lower its almost impossible for the business to function.
In order to pull our country out from under this, the government needs to offer better funding and in more states than ever before. Cover the cost of QUALITY care. This can be outlined by only offering to cover the cost (to to a specific amount) for any Joint Commission Accredited center.
There is a lot we can do in this country, and I urge all of you, please. If you are willing to fight and truly stand up for what you believe in when 15,549 people died from gunfire. Stand up and fight for the roughly 180,000 people that will die this year because of addiction.