Opioid Epidemic Article Analysis

Article Summary

The article I have chosen for the analysis is entitled “The changing face of the US opioid epidemic: Middle-aged black adults see rise in deaths” and was published in CNN Health this year. The publication addresses a concerning trend in opioid use for recreational and medical use. The author, Christensen, cites several studies and provides an analysis of the most recent statistics on the subject dated 2017.

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Christensen discovers that a new demographic seems to be overtaken by the current opioid crisis – middle aged African Americans. Previously, opioid abuse was more characteristic of younger, White populations. However, at present, things are changing, and the crisis is expanding the scope of its impact, affecting demographics that have not previously been showing inclination toward the use of this drug.

Christensen reports that in 2017 alone, 48,000 fell victim to opioid overdose. Two thirds of these 48,000 deaths were caused by synthetic opioids – those that are manufactured in laboratories and made more potent and, therefore, deadly. This information is consistent with what the class reading tells about the three opioid crises. Namely, the third opioid crisis was largely triggered by the mass introduction by so-called fentanyl – a synthetic compound developed for instant stress relief with many side effects that are often dismissed. Further, Christensen overviews the racial trends amidst the opioid crisis. She states that in urban populations, there has been an acute spike of 101% and 361% in Black people’s number of deaths from natural and synthetic opioids, respectively.

In general, between 2015 and 2017, all races and ethnicities had seen an increase in opioid use rates. Nevertheless, it should be noted that previously, African American communities were characterized by lower rates of opioid abuse. When opioids just entered the US medical market, racial minorities were not prescribed it at the same rate as white people, mostly because doctors did not want to waste the new and effective drug on them.

That racial bias seems to have worked out well for Black Americans – in fact, it was a blessing in disguise. Yet, today, fentanyl is becoming increasingly accessible through prescription. Apart from that, African Americans may be getting addicted to fentanyl because it is often added by drug dealers to meth and heroin.

The information provided at the courtesy of Chistensen is comparable to what is stated in the class readings. For example, Oser shows that Black Americans do use fewer drugs than White Americans, especially when it comes to young people. However, it is worth mentioning that Oser only addresses recreational use and says nothing about prescription drugs. Another thing that should be noted is that the class reading provides useful but somewhat general recommendations regarding how to tackle the drug problem.

Oser describes intervention techniques as well as the impact of activism and interaction with communities. While Christensen acknowledges the power of reaching out and helping struggling demographics, she makes it a point to highlight the importance of being race specific. Different demographics face unique challenges, and these need to be considered when developing a sound anti-drug strategy. Besides, help should not only be about education and awareness.

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As Christensen states in her report for CNN, underprivileged communities often lack adequate medical resources. So activists should also make sure that Black people have access to medications such as naloxone that reverses opioid overdose and saves lives. Lastly, activists and health workers need to execute recovery programs in which opioids might have to be substituted with some other medication so that patients could suffer less from withdrawal and get back to normal faster and easier.


What are three things you learned from this video?

  • The first wave of opioid crisis started because of manufacturers’ irresponsibility and successful attempts to avoid public scrutiny. The three main stakeholders (Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen) were supposed to reach out to the authorities in case they noticed suspicious activity hinting at drug abuse. One example that John Oliver brings up in the show is that of a small town Kermit with a population of barely 400 people. A few years ago, it was discovered that a pharmacy owner in Kermit ordered more than three million doses of opioids in one year, which were later sold to the residents. Normally, this would draw attention from both manufacturers and the government, but no such thing happen. In particular, McKesson continued selling opioids en masse, providing Kermit with as many as five million doses in two years.
  • Stakeholders keep fueling the opioid crisis without being held responsible for the havoc they cause. At some point, McKesson was forced to take responsibility for its negligence, but the company got away with a fine of $13.5 million and a promise to follow through with the substance abuse control monitoring program. As Oliver puts it, McKesson was pretty much put in charge of McKesson because no one else was holding the manufacturer accountable, and obviously, things did not change for the better. In 2017, the company had to pay an even bigger fine of $150 million, which might seem like a big deal. However, Oliver provides a piece of statistics that show that in actuality, the fine only amounts to 0.1% of McKesson’s annual revenue. Therefore, it would not be a reach to say that all these fines are nothing more than business operation costs for large companies. Stakeholders are not punished: in fact, to them, fines and sanctions are just negotiation conditions that they are willing to adhere to. A lawyer that worked on the case of McKesson agrees that fines are useless against a big corporation and that the company’s key executives should be in jail.
  • What is even more insidious, however, is that some companies engineer the opioid crisis. In the video, John Oliver provides an example of Sackler – a large manufacturer of opioid medications. Now that Sackler is facing a great number of lawsuits, it is possible to gain an insight into how pervasive the influence of Sackler is. One file shows the founder’s son’s micromanaging approach to running business. For instance, Sackler Junior went as far as accompanying sales representatives on their visits to doctors. He needed to be sure that they do everything in their power to make health workers use the product. At one of the meetings, Sackler said explicitly that he expects a “blizzard of prescriptions (“Opioids II: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)”).”

What are 2 questions you are left with?

  • Are there more opioid crises to expect in the years to come? Will they be different from those that have happened so far?
  • Why is the government powerless against the big corporations? Or does the government somehow benefit from negotiating with them?

How does this relate to class?

Interestingly enough, the class reading did not quite address the opioid problem that is discussed at length in the video. John Oliver’s report on the opioid crisis provided a new perspective on the subject matter. The textbook mostly focuses on why people start using drugs and why they cannot stop. In particular, the section addressing prescription drug abuse only highlights the behaviors of people who are confronted with this issue. For example, Oser states that patients are often clueless about how addictive opioids are (298). Others go straight for recreational use because they are aware of the euphoric sensations that come with it.

However, Oser does not mention that it is not always patients’ fault that they become addicted: they might as well be manipulated by big companies into drug use. So it seems that this problem is double-edged: on the one hand, there are irresponsible patients who do not pay close attention to doses or do not care to read about the mechanism of action and side effects. On the other hand, there are predatory corporations who are interested in keeping people “hooked” on a drug because they are greedy for profit.

Ted Talk

The central theme of this TED talk delivered by the writer and women’s rights activist Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie is the danger of seeing people and cultures through the lens of stereotypes. The speaker discusses the image of Africa in the press and in the Western countries in particular. Having come from Nigeria to study in the United States, Adichie experienced a great deal of misunderstanding; it was clear to her that Americans were “normal” and she was “the other.”

For example, when she first moved in with her American roommate on campus, she was bombarded with quite insensitive questions. First, the girl was amazed that Adichie could speak English so well and even inquired how she managed to learn it to proficiency. Apparently, it had never occurred to that American woman that many African countries do have English as their official language, and their citizens learn it alongside their local languages since birth. Another shocking fact was that Adichie knew how to use kitchen utensils and that she listened to popular music produced in the US such as Mariah Carey. Obviously, this collision of cultures left the speaker with a feeling of uneasiness, but soon she realized that she should not attribute to malice what can be attributed to ignorance.

Adichie explains that the reason why people navigate the world using stereotypes is because they do not always have easy access to the information reflecting reality. In the US, it was apparent that media perpetuated the image of Africa as a struggling continent. This is how an average America viewed it: beautiful landscapes, rare animals, and poverty-stricken nations fighting AIDS, dying in wars, and struggling to survive (“The Danger of a Single Story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”). While Africa does have these issues, it does not mean that it does not have anything else to show to the world.

Interestingly enough, Adichie admits that she herself often saw people in one dimension. The writer grew up in a middle-class family: her father was a professor and her mother was an administrator. As many other middle-class Nigerian families, they had live-in house helpers. One time, her parents hired a new house boy whom they often used to teach Adichie the right values in life. For example, if she was moody and refused to eat food, they emphasized the dire situation that this house boy’s family was in: he came from a poor village and was forced to serve richer families.

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It is no wonder that Adichie felt sorry for the boy and saw him exactly how her parents portrayed him. Once the writer had a chance to visit his family in his home village. At his house, Adichie had a chance to see the beautiful handcrafts his mother was making. It was the moment of revelation: the speaker realized that poverty was not the defining trait of those people: they had hobbies, interests, and creative imagination.

The viewer can learn a very valuable lesson from this TED talk. Adichie’s life story and reflections show how important it is to see beyond surface. Firstly, people should make an effort to be more open to the new information that has the potential of changing their worldview. For example, when they meet someone from another culture, they should not rely on stereotypes. This applies to traveling: Adichie describes situations when people base expectations on what they have heard about a country or a culture. Instead, it makes more sense to engage with people and cultures on a deeper level, which allows for making authentic bonds.

Lastly, Adichie shows the importance of reading: rare and ethnic literature gives a voice to those who are often stifled by the dominant culture. Through self-education, it is possible to evolve past hurtful stereotypes and realize that people have a lot in common with each other, regardless of their origin.

Works Cited

Christensen, Jen. The Changing Face of the US Opioid Epidemic: Middle-Aged Black Adults See Rise in Deaths. 2019. Web.

Opioids II: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO).” YouTube, uploaded by LastWeekTonight. 2019. Web.

Oser, Carrie B. “Investigating Drugs.” Investigating Social Problems, 2d ed., edited by Treviño, A. Havier, ed., Sage, 2019, pp. 291-313.

“The Danger of a Single Story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.” YouTube, uploaded by TED. 2019. Web.

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