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New federal opioid commission must address the causes of despair that lead to substance abuse

Recent research suggests an increase in “diseases of despair” in the U.S.—deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide that can be traced to declining economic opportunities and fraying social fabric. In an opinion piece for STAT News, three Prevention Institute directors write that the president’s new opioid commission is an opportunity to address these diseases at the root. 

President Trump launched a commission in late March to evaluate prevention, treatment, and recovery options for people who abuse opioids. This commission must think big if it wants to successfully prevent opioid abuse, write Manal Aboelata, Larry Cohen and Sheila Savannah in the op-ed. That means looking at who profits from opioid abuse, how these substances flood into neighborhoods, and the factors that underlie the hopelessness, economic injustice, and disempowerment that drive people toward substance use. 

They write:

“Many rural counties that have seen a surge of opioid overdoses and premature deaths have been hard hit by deindustrialization, as large employers replace blue-collar workers with machines and outsource jobs. In many communities of color, the flight of the aerospace, automotive, and other industries, along with chronic disinvestment in education, housing, and public infrastructure, have undermined health and well-being for generations. 

…The opioid commission must take seriously the task of finding solutions that foster hope and opportunity. These solutions need to fire up the engines of local economic development and job training in ways that are applicable in every disenfranchised community — including African-American, Latino, Asian, Native American, Arab, whites without college degrees, and others — that grapple with social isolation, despair, and overexposure to opioids and other harmful substances such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and alcohol.” 

To read the rest of the op-ed, please see the article on STAT, an increasingly influential health news site produced by Boston Globe Media. 

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Phone: 510-444-7738

Email: prevent@preventioninstitute.org

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