Alcohol and other drugs: The not so silent killers

“Let us not forget who we are. Drug abuse is a repudiation of everything America is.”

President Ronald Reagan

While we condemn the numbers of our peoples slain in the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq-Afghanistan wars, which number a little over 100,000 individuals, we most often overlook the devastating numbers killed in our own country by drunk drivers, overdose on ethyl alcohol (generally termed alcohol poisoning) and opiates (and other drugs) and their related accidents and diseases…which have numbered many times over of those killed in the wars on foreign soils…hundreds of thousands in the 20th century and in our beginnings of this 21st century.

As the cartoon character Pogo once stated: “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”

We, as citizens of this great nation, are taken aback by the deaths of our military members in war, and rightfully so, and are always made aware of this through the media. Yet, do the media keep us aware and informed of the daily death toll of those slain by alcohol and other drug abuse?

Are there articles written about or reported on television about them and the suffering families that are left behind? Very seldom.

I remember quite vividly the war protests during the Vietnam War, protesting our young men dying in combat. It has always been quite ironic to me that while those protests of the 10 years of that war were going on; 100,000 individuals were slain in alcohol related fatalities here at home, while 58,000 individuals died in Vietnam.

Now, I am not down playing those individuals who gave their lives for their country…I was in that war myself, so I honor all those brave souls. What I am saying is that while those things were going on, we as “our own worst enemies” were largely ignoring the senseless deaths of our people on our own soil. We are still losing about 10,000 individuals a year due to alcohol related traffic fatalities, and the number is much higher if combined with alcohol overdoses…alcohol poisoning; and other drug overdoses.

Where are our priorities?

Now, some of you readers may say, “Dr. Jones, aren’t you being somewhat cynical or exaggerating the problems?” I can assure you that I am not. In this technological age I invite you to do your own “fact checking.” You will find that the figures are true and factual. We most assuredly are “killing ourselves” at an ever growing, alarming rate; and I have spent almost one-half of my adult life presenting, teaching, counseling, and writing about the subject.

Now, I have written a lot about alcohol related matters in the past, and I want to change gears to provide you with another aspect of Substance Abuse; involving other than alcohol drug overdose, and ethyl alcohol related traffic accidents.

In my ongoing research I have always been concerned about the dated statistics on alcohol and other substance abuse. Let’s look at some data about overdose on drugs other than alcohol. The State and National statistics are always about two years behind; it is most difficult to glean current statistics from any agency.

However, I can relate recent 2016 data given by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a private organization, which has provided data on drug overdose other than ethyl alcohol in Texas counties.

In Cameron County, with its population reported by the U.S. Census Bureau as being around 500,000; the number of Drug overdoses was estimated at 170. In Hidalgo County, with an estimated population of 819,217; the numbers of overdoses were 576. That means the total number of drug overdoses in both counties last year was around 746. This number is for drug overdoses other than alcohol; to include the number of alcohol related overdoses (which is next to impossible to obtain) it would be much higher.

The numbers in our Valley communities seem to pale when set beside the great metro-plexus like the Ft.Worth-Dallas, and the Houston areas; which overdose numbers are given in the thousands for the year 2016. And if we look at the figures for the entire state and the nation, the numbers are staggering.

The current Opioid Epidemic which is sweeping the Northeast and North central area of our Nation has claimed many thousands of lives by overdose; and our State and our Valley communities are also now being affected. Not only are the old standard drugs, such as heroin, causing a rapid rise in Opioid deaths, but the lacing and direct ingestion of other Opioids, such as Fentynil are causing this rise. Physicians the nation over are now being very careful when it comes to prescribing Opioids. The rise in Opioid overdose deaths continues, most especially in the young and elderly populations.

What does “Overdose” mean anyway? Most individuals in the professional and lay communities would generally agree that it means when one has taken the amount of the substance that will result in death. But, this is not always the case; it also means taking an amount of a drug beyond which is generally prescribed or taken by each individual; and this can be very personal in nature; dependent on the physical size of the individual and the tolerance to the substance, and legal guidelines.

A person of large stature, for example, would have to take more of the drug to have the same effects as a person of smaller statue. Tolerance, the amount of substance one would have to take to receive the same effect of his/her taking the substance for the first time; the original affect, is developed over time. It is quite obvious that a smaller person would have to take less of the substance to reach the overdose limit than a larger person; and a person with less tolerance to the substance would equally have to take a lesser amount of a substance to reach overdose levels.

It is never the same for everyone. With alcohol, which is equally dependent on physical size and tolerance, there is an added factor; the driving under the influence legal factor. The law states that one has reached an overdose level when they have .08 percent of alcohol per liter of blood in their system; at that level they are considered to be a drunk driver; they have legally overdosed on the drug ethyl alcohol.

Although data collection on the actual use, abuse, and overdose on substances is sorely lacking in our Valley communities; I am most pleased that there are currently colleagues of mine in the Addictions Profession currently working on the problem…to devise a meaningful data collection system which will be of great benefit to all our citizenry. This will aid us tremendously in prevention and treatment efforts. I stand behind them 110 percent of their efforts, as I know that this will be of immeasurable benefit for our communities.

Yes my friends, we are indeed in a War on Drugs; and the continuous battles we have been fighting for a long time attest to that. The interdiction of illicit chemical substances, the prevention of use and abuse, and the treatment efforts to alleviate the suffering of individuals and families so affected…it is an everlasting struggle. We can all do our part in any one, or all of these efforts, to some extent or another. The problems are many, but the solutions rest with the onset of awareness and knowledge.

How much are you really aware of the problems associated with alcohol and other substance abuse? Ask yourself, “Am I a part of the problem or a part of the solution?” Until Next Time, Stay Healthy My Friends!