Understanding addiction

First, the good news: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of fatal overdoses in the U.S. decreased last year — down 3% from 2022.

Now, the not so great news: That’s still 107,500 people who died at the hands of a decades-long substance abuse epidemic; and those same CDC researchers say the last time there was such a decrease, the number of fatal overdoses increased dramatically in the following year.

Further, Brandon Marshall, a Brown University researcher who studies overdose trends, offered some less-than-comforting reasons for the decrease that have little to do with winning the fight against this monster.

Shifts in the drug supply and use habits (smoking or mixing with other drugs rather than injecting, for example) could be one reason for the change. Another is simply that the epidemic has killed so many already there are fewer to die.

That doesn’t mean prevention and recovery support efforts are not vital. And it does not mean there is any less need to support the families of those who have lost loved ones to this plague.

Meanwhile, the fact that so many experts are reluctant to be optimistic about a small decrease could mean they understand something continues to fuel this epidemic. Yes, there is as much supply as demanded. That is one part of the problem.

But the other is understanding what drives so many into the arms of this beast. How do we provide people the economic, mental health and social hope and support to break cycles? How do we encourage them to embrace a bright future, rather than being unable to see past a bleak present they can hardly bear?

“My hope is 2023 is the beginning of a turning point,” said Dr. Daniel Ciccarone of the University of California, San Francisco.

Imagine the possibilities if we all took a comprehensive, informed, compassionate approach to actually making that happen.


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