Professor Faye Hanson-Evans
November 1, 2018
According to the CDC, while the mean rate is 19.8 for overdose death in the United States, West Virginia’s rate is an astounding 52.0, by far the highest number in the country. It is an almost inevitable result from the rampant poverty and seclusion in regions like the Appalachian, where a decrease in coal prices have led to a total downfall in the state’s economy, which was largely dependent on coal mining. The painkillers were moved into the mining region to treat many of the workers chronic pain, and became too addictive for many residents to function normally without them. Misleading claims from pain killer manufactures like Purdue convinced doctors into believing that less than 1% of patients put on opioids would become addicted, lead to its over prescription and increased dependence in the region. West Virginia has had an eight-fold increase in deaths from overdosing since 1999. It is almost no surprise, considering its cut back on school funding and unemployment benefits that many of the residents affected by poverty and hopelessness in this region turn to opioids for relief.
Two middle range theories that may explain drug addiction, particularly in the Appalachian region, are the labeling and the anomie theory. The labeling theory theorizes that people act in ways that correlate to how others label them. For example, if you were to live in Appalachian you would undoubtedly be branded by people in other cities as a junkie, which may push you to sooner or later fulfill that expectation. According to the labeling theory, when you are deemed an outsider by society it affects the way that other members of that society will behave around you regarding the label that you have been given, further pushing one to associate oneself with that label and at last become it. My next theory, the anomie theory, is the explanation for instability among a society from a lack of drive, it is the break down between society and an individual. According to this concept, if a person is powerless to reach societies norms they may be motivated to use drugs such as opiates as a relief from the pressures put on them by their society. Due to unrealistic goals in America, like a six-digit salary and a perfect body, it comes as no surprise that many Americans regardless of race, class, or sex, use drugs to relieve themselves from these expectations.
For many decades we have focused on drug addiction in America, from former president Richard Nixon’s war on drugs in 1971 to current president Donald Trump’s Support for patients and communities act in 2018. America’s drug problem seems impossible to fix, and over all these years we have been blaming addicts of not even wanting to be cured and simply craving the exciting psychedelic feeling a drug gives them, however, many addicts claim that they take drugs to feel ordinary. We have become to occupied accusing the addict rather than understanding sociological explanations for why people develop addictions. The most reasonable theory out of the two I proposed seems to be the labeling theory when applied to American society. To recap, the labeling theory is how our actions are influenced by the labels that categorize us. So, if you are found doing anything against society’s norms, like taking opioids, you are labeled as a deviant outsider. The way we outcast individuals from society, trapping them by giving them less job openings and more discrimination is the issue, not the deviant actions themselves, seems to be our issue. Our reaction as a society then contributes to the individual continuing to use more drugs and eventually becoming a full-blown junkie. The individual will then eventually completely withdrawal from society and be susceptible to more problems instead of rejoining society and seeking recovery. Even though we commonly treat drug addiction like an illness in professional environments, our society treats addicts as risky outcasts who should never be trusted. When you are labeled as an outcast it has been shown to encourage a rebellion and further tangles you in the cycle of the labeling theory. This is what I believed has taken place in Appalachian region, where fewer and fewer jobs are being offered and more and more people are either leaving or dying from rampant opioid abuse. People often born into this environment are hopeless and associated with the negative connotation of their region, making them feel like an outsider and trying to find a way to somehow fit into society, often through the use of drugs. It is a self-perpetuating cycle that seems as if it may never end, but what can we do about it now?
Many solutions have been proposed to solve our opioid epidemic, for example on October fourth 2018 current President Trump signed into law the support for patients and communities act, which will attempt to combat America’s opioid epidemic by trying to stop illegal opioids like fentanyl from being smuggled into the United States. However, this act will not give any significant amount of money to addiction treatment, which is arguably as important if not more for stopping the demand for drugs, especially for poorer regions that can not afford it like the Appalachian. It would however force doctors to lower the number of opioids they prescribe, which has been shown to drive addicts further into the black market, which can be deadly for addicts desperate for their next hit. Since 2012 the amount of fatal opioid overdoses has doubled, while there has been a steady 28 percent decrease in its prescription, proving that the reduce in prescription does not lead to a reduction in mortality rates. To solve our addiction crisis, I propose that we slowly remove the stigmatization that we give to many drug users and help rehabilitate them by accepting them into society through the use of information such as personal anecdotes to make addicts seem more like humans than a burdens. This will take many years, however I believe this will help make treatment, recovery, and rehabilitation back into a normal member of society much more obtainable for many Americans.