The opioid crisis shows just how rigged the US healthcare system is

3 Jul 2018


With the United Kingdom celebrating 70 years of the NHS this summer, it's easy for us Brits to take our healthcare system for granted. The majority of us, regardless of income or social class, generally feel well looked after by our universal healthcare system. However, for our neighbours across the pond, it's a very different story.


The land of the free still have a long way to go until they maintain a healthcare system that works for the citizens of their country. The US has one of the highest rates of 'mortality amenable to healthcare' in the world. In other words, US citizens are dying needlessly - dying from afflictions that are easily preventable with the assistance of healthcare.


Whilst America's healthcare system faces many problems, arguably the biggest issue is the opioid epidemic. An epidemic which has devastated vast swathes of the country, and one which Trump's administration has been rather quiet about.


During the 1960s, healthcare professionals became increasingly cautious in prescribing opioids, due to the rise in deaths related to opioid overdose. This, however, led to undertreatment, which resulted in drug manufacturers underplaying the harmful effects of such medicines. Indeed, pharmaceuticals suggested that patients would be immune to the side effects of high dose administrations of opiates. This turned out to be erroneous and misleading - fast forward to 2017, and 100 people were dying from opium abuse per day in the USA. 


Pharmaceuticals are a powerful pressure group, providing large donations to both Republicans and Democrats. Pharmaceutical companies have spent almost $2.5 billion in an attempt to influence politicians, pouring more money into congress than any other industry in the United States. These contributions from drug manufacturers seeks to influence legislations surrounding drug manufacturing laws, which can be anything from the price of drugs to how new medicines are approved.


Such substantial donations are only fuelling the opioid crisis within the US. Industry-funded groups, such as the Pain Care Forum, spent $740m over a decade lobbying in Washington and state legislatures against limits on opioid prescriptions. Companies have spent the past decade pouring money and resources in attempt to place blame on the opioid crisis on users of such drugs, deflecting blame from the manufacturers. 


Considering that President Donald Trump has called the opioid epidemic a “national emergency”, and has vowed to crack down on the problems which opioid addicts face, his determination to repeal Obama Care suggests he hasn't put his money where his mouth is.


Repealing Obama Care will prevent the most vulnerable in society from seeking the help they need through rehabilitation programmes. Since his election, Trump has emphasised the need to stop the drug flow between the southern states and Mexican border, claiming that this is the root of the drug issues which have blighted the United States. Trump is disregarding the genuine need for a new system that has appropriate legislations in place to prioritise health over profit. Rather than daring to stand up to the large pharmaceuticals, for fear of losing donatins, Trump has steered the conversation toward Mexico. 


The opioid epidemic highlights the basic inequality of the American healthcare system. With the majority of opioid addicts being middle class citizens living in rural, poorer areas of the country, an American's chances of overcoming a drug addiction depends entirely on their income. 


The government has a huge role to play in solving the opiod crisis. However, the Trump administration seems more focused on increasing profit for shareholders of drug manufacturers, and advancing their own political gains, than providing a safe and healthy community for their citizens.



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