Seven for 2017: Why the New Year will be the year of the Pandemic
Much of the decade leading up to 2017 has been characterized by the so-called Opioid Epidemic. For the final 1,000 or so days of the decade, America will continue to gain ground against painkiller and heroin deaths. However, 2017 will mark a switch in the dialogue from illicit drugs developed in pharmaceutical labs or grown in faraway lands to a homegrown pandemic that claims 90,000 American lives. Here’s why the U.S. will finally talk about the drug we love – alcohol – instead of the drugs we loathe.
1) Pro-marijuana factions are forcing the attention away from the problems created by their drug to the one that’s already legal. Recreational pot — legalized and/or decriminalized in eight states now — is ‘less dangerous’ than both alcohol and tobacco. Granted, one side of the Titanic may, in fact, have been safer than the other, the ‘safety’ of marijuana versus booze is not a new claim. Well-bankrolled pro-marijuana interests are making hay with what they claim is, for the first time, research measuring the potential harm of these drugs in a more quantitative way. Their findings showed the dangers of marijuana “may have been overestimated in the past, while the risk of alcohol has been commonly underestimated.” They are at a minimum half correct no matter where you fall on the legalization/decriminalization argument. As the pro-pot teams swarm the media, America can’t help but hear that it’s wishful thinking that their favorite drug-of-choice is safe because it is legal.
2) Our new president is a teetotaler. Donald J. Trump doesn’t drink. Like so many Americans he has a family history including the disease of alcoholism. He gets that it is a disease related to the use of a socially and physically toxic drug. But beyond alcoholic drinking, Trump doesn’t buy that the moderate drinking (use of a drug) is acceptable.
3) Our new president is a business owner. He’s not shy about talking about increasing efficiency in Making America Great Again. Among the measures a business owner uses is productivity. Even moderate use creates absenteeism (a productivity drain), and increased risk of accidents/injuries (another productivity drain). Tardiness/sleeping on the job. Hangovers and withdrawal affecting job performance. Poor decision making while under the influence of a central nervous system depressant. All clobber productivity.
Seventy percent of the $250 billion alcohol costs the U.S. economy every year comes from losses in productivity resulting from premature death, impaired productivity, institutionalized populations, incarceration, crime careers, and victims of alcohol-related crime. Other effects on society included crime, social welfare administration, motor vehicle crashes, and fire destruction and cost more than $40 billion. Government, private insurance, and victims bore most of the economic burden of alcohol and drug problems. That’s a not-so-great anymore America he wants to make great again.
4) The fourth estate continues to become less dependent on the Big-Alcohol teat. History lesson… When much of the Glass/Steagall Act was repealed in 1999, financial services advertising rocketed to the top five of advertisers, and negative stories about the industry fell to the back page or out of the newscast. Would Enron, the Tech Collapse and the Mortgage Crisis have happened if news operations had been less beholden to the financial services industry? Yep. But would those calamities happened as swiftly and destructively? Doubtful.
Conversely, alcohol advertising has today tumbled out of the top-ten. Alcohol ads typically tie brands with cool, sexy, stylish, on-Fleek people and fun times. Ultimately, these concepts come together to suggest: if I use this product, I too can be cool, sexy, on-Fleek and successful like the people in the ad, having fun like they seem to be. Ads so influence young people that media is under pressure from groups like AlcoholJustice and The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) to keep the ads off air, out of public view in neighborhoods, off social media, and out of print. News outlets beholden to their advertisers – or at least not airing stories that will cost an advertiser business – are seeing less advertising from brewers and distillers. The result: More of the negatives from alcohol use can make it onto your laptop or into your living room.
5) American losses are too staggering to ignore any longer. More Americans die each year from alcohol than the number of Americans killed in the entire Korean and Vietnam conflicts combined. More than twice as many people die an alcohol-related death in the U.S. than die an opioid-related death (90,000 vs. 33,000). When opiates killed 10,000 in a single year it was an ‘epidemic.’ When the flu killed 30,000 in a year, vaccination levels ballooned. People did something. Three times as many die each year from moderate to heavy use of alcohol. People are starting to take note of what alcohol does to them rather than what they think it does for them.
This number of alcohol-related deaths is rising, too, not falling.
6) Healthcare reform reform will add the prevention element on which it has missed the mark. Twenty to 40 percent of general use hospital beds in the U.S. – those not used for specialties like maternity and birth – are used to treat alcohol-related complications. Two hospital admissions each minute are alcohol-related. Alcohol is a substantial driver of healthcare utilization.
And it is a substantial driver of illness. Alcohol is listed as a known (not a suspected) carcinogen by the Department of Health and Human Services. Eight cancers are directly tied to alcohol use: The higher the use, the greater the risk. It’s the only dietary link to an increased risk of breast cancer. More than 60 diseases are linked to alcohol use. More than 200 prescription and over-the-counter remedies react adversely with this toxin. We’ve had a history lesson above in #4. Here’s a math problem: More sickness + hospitalization = higher medical costs = higher insurance premiums. What causes problems, is one.
7) The status quo is unsustainable.
Addicted Minds’ Editor-in-Chief, Scott Stevens, is the author of four alcohol books including the December 2016 release, I Can’t See The Forest With All These Damn Trees In The Way: The Health Consequences of Alcohol. The new BookLocker title is available 1/1/17 on Amazon, alcohologist.com, and everywhere books are sold.