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Opioid ‘crisis’: Carte blanche not justified

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POSTED February 8, 2018 1:48 a.m.

All life is precious.
But the real question is can we afford to pay the tab given our unwillingness to nurture life.
There was a time when preemie babies rarely survived out of the womb. It was Mother Nature’s call. Now modern medicine has made survival significantly better.
Of the 15 million babies born worldwide in 2012, only a million died. Those statistics from the World Health Organization are jarring when you consider they rank the United States 131st out of 184 countries for premature births.
There are 12 premature births per 100 births or roughly 500,000 a year in the United States. We tend to spend the most in keeping preemies alive especially those born significantly earlier than they should which most of the time also comes with life-long — and expensive — health issues. The United States Institute of Medicine places the national cost of birth for preemies at $26 billion.
Belarus — a land locked country in Eastern Europe — has the lowest premature birth rate per 100 deliveries at 4.1. That’s a third of the United States rate that ranks with Turkey, Thailand, and one of those “you know what” countries in Africa — Somalia.
So what do the upper tier of nations in low premature birth share. Besides the general population perhaps eating healthier and exercising more, it is a better education and preventive care system that addresses empowering people with knowledge about the best practices and extending health services during and between pregnancies on a universal basis.
This is not a pitch about universal health care. In fact, it isn’t about premature babies per se. It’s about the best outcomes and accomplishing them without bankrupting a country.
There is a growing dither over drug overdoses and the latest culprit du jour — opioids.
Setting off the latest frenzy of Chicken Little squawking demanding Fort Knox be emptied to throw money at the problem was news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that expected average life spans for Americans have fallen for the second consecutive year. It was at 78.9 years for someone born in 2014. That dropped to 78.7 for those born in 2015 and then to 78.6 for those born in 2016.
For reference, based on year of birth life expectancy in the United States in 1900 was 47.3 years for men and 48.9 years for women. By 1960 that had jumped to 66.6 years for men and 73.1 years for women.
The death rate from opioids had been climbing since the late 1990s. The reason we haven’t noticed it in the overall death rate is the fact it was offset by a reduction in cardiovascular deaths that had been declining until prevention efforts a few years ago started stalling in terms of making additional headway.
There is now a cry and a hue to declare a national emergency and to tax the country into oblivion to solve the problem.
That flies in the face of reality. This nation has committed resources and wealth unparalleled in history to improve the odds of someone born in this country to live longer. That includes basic sanitation systems, solid water removal, clean drinking water, more abundant food crops, vaccines, developed best practices via research using years and mountains of money, and an entire repertoire of medical advances.
Yet many Americans opt not to step up and use knowledge that is readily available or even access health care when it is for preventative purposes and at no cost through a public agency if they’re poor or with no co-pay or token co-pay if they are insured.
A number of us who win the DNA lottery for overall natural health engage in behavior that is clearly destructive to our healthly well-being in the thought we will dodge the bullet but then when we get “shot” we demand heaven and earth be moved to give us our health back.
Back in the 1990s when Rotary’s PolioPlus was a decade or so into its push to eradicate polio worldwide, the service organization was approached to do a similar effort in the United States to help turn the tide with the number of households — primary poor ones — that were eschewing opportunities to get vaccines for their kids until such time they were forced to do so to enroll them in school.
The effort in San Joaquin County managed to get only a handful who had not partaken of opportunities offered every month by public health services.
Contrast that to The Philippines where people would travel for two days with their children to access free polio vaccines. If helped that they were still seeing first-hand the devastating impacts polio was inflicting. They understood that the free ounce of prevention was not only less expensive than a pound of cure, but it was unlikely they’d ever get access to even an ounce of the cure.
As cold hearted as if may sound, resources to address the opioid deaths should be directed toward educating everyone — students, medical professionals and other adults — about the dangers and taking steps to prevent the opportunity for addiction.
Yes, we should take steps when there are overdoses but at what point do we draw the line — the second, third, fourth, fifth or 10th revival?
We’ll draw the line at not helping an alcoholic get a new liver if they don’t stop drinking or drop a patient off an organ transplant list if they refuse to stop smoking. Why should an abuser of opioids be treated differently than an abuser of cigarettes or alcohol?


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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