Everything Isn’t as Perfect as It Seems in Ireland

Everything Isn’t as Perfect as It Seems in Ireland Lynn R. Webster @LynnRWebsterMD

Is the Opioid Crisis Uniquely an American Problem?

For the past two weeks, I have been visiting Ireland. I attended a meeting for a few days in Dublin, but then my wife and I toured parts of the beautiful country boasting deeply green meadows that connected huge historic cathedrals and exquisite castles.

On the way from the airport to our hotel when we arrived, we listened to the taxi’s radio broadcast about the heroin crisis in Dublin. The news particularly caught my attention, since we have been hearing from our major media outlets that the opioid crisis is uniquely an American problem.

The next day, I read a BBC story in the Dublin Times titled, “Why opioids are such an American problem.” This story, juxtaposed with the radio newscast I’d heard the day before, aroused my curiosity about the extent of the drug problem that existed in Ireland and how it compared to the drug crisis in the United States.

Dublin Has Drug Abuse Problems, Too

A day later, the Irish Times reported that the police had seized drugs with a value of 500,000 Euros (about $600,000 in U.S. dollars). The drugs were part of an illicit pill making factory. The article added that Dublin’s police commissioner reported he had attended a funeral where the mother was burying the third of her three children who had died of heroin overdoses. That horrible story sounded almost as if Dublin were a city in the U.S.

Just two days later, I came across yet another Irish Times article in which economist Chris Jones recalls that it was 50 years ago this month when President Nixon launched his infamous War on Drugs campaign. Jones argues that destructive battle not only failed, but it evolved into the modern-day opioid crisis in Ireland. He contends that it may have worsened the drug crisis by encouraging the development of even more deadly synthetic substances.

The opioid crisis may be taking more lives in the U.S. per capita than it is elsewhere. However, these news reports confirmed what many already knew. The drug problem reaches beyond our borders and has resulted in universally tragic outcomes.

Demonizing People With Addiction Worsens the Drug Crisis

A little more research shows that in Ireland, as in the United States, heroin started out as an inner-city problem that primarily affected impoverished, uneducated young people with few opportunities for advancement. These are some of the more common environmental seeds of drug abuse.

In 1983, a Special Governmental Task Force on Drug Abuse recommended the creation of treatment facilities in Ireland’s poorer communities. However, that plan stalled, because most people believed drug users were guilty of making poor choices. In Ireland, as in the United States, addiction was not recognized as a disease. It was considered a character flaw. This attitude bleeds over today into many parts of society in both countries.

Demonizing people with addiction instead of treating their disease has not solved the problem in either country. Instead, it may have escalated the problem. In 2017, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis in the U.S. to be a National Health Emergency under Federal law. Similarly, the Ireland’s drug use has reached a crisis level, according to The Drugs and Alcohol Trends Monitoring System 2017.

In recent years, the primary drugs of abuse have changed in the U.S. and in Ireland. In the United States, the drug crisis that allegedly began with prescription opioids has evolved into an illicit drugs problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now reports that heroin and synthetic fentanyl are associated with more overdose deaths in the U.S. than prescription opioids. People who could not obtain prescriptions because of the restrictions that were put in place have turned to other, more dangerous drugs.

By contrast, many of Ireland’s young people are moving away from heroin and are using “cannabis, alcohol, cocaine and benzodiazepines” instead. This is occurring because there was a shortage of imported heroin in Ireland in 2010-2011 when the Middle Eastern opium crops failed and presumably fewer prescription opioids were available to fill the void. Interestingly, the U.S. saw a small dip in the number of heroin overdoses during the same time.

Let’s Share a Solution to the Drug Crisis

The United States and Ireland share so many great things: proud histories, beautiful landscapes, wonderfully friendly people, and cultural contributions that should make us all proud. Our people are more alike than dissimilar and, unfortunately, we share many of the same genetic and environmental realities that — when combined with exposure to substances of abuse — lead some of us into addiction.

There is no magical place where addiction is not a problem. Contrary to popular belief, the United States has not commandeered most of the world’s drug supplies to support its own habit. As lovely as it is to visit the Emerald Isle, it’s clear that Ireland has suffered from its misconceptions about addiction and ill-conceived public policies, just as we have in the United States.



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