Two Public Health Crises America Continues to Ignore

Two Public Health Crises America Continues to Ignore

Almost everyone, from the White House on down, is talking about the opioid epidemic. The president has called it a national public health emergency, and in every state, county, city and town its deadly effects are being felt.

But in sheer numbers of illness and deaths, destruction of families, and countless $billions in health care costs, the uses and abuses of tobacco and alcohol dwarf those of opioids.

Over the past 20 years, educational programs and other factors have reduced the prevalence of tobacco use. But while opioids have risen to national prominence, tobacco continues to kill 7 or 8 times more Americans than opioids - nearly the same death rates as heart disease, the number two killer after cancer.

Alcohol, which claims far fewer victims than does smoking, nevertheless kills perhaps 90,000 or more Americans a year, considerably more than the 64,000 recently attributed to opioids by the CDC. This includes all opioids - legal and illegal prescriptions plus street opioids like heroin and the deadly new heroin additive fentanyl.

A recent article in the online news magazine Vox asks the obvious question:

Should alcohol and tobacco use be considered epidemics?

If you take into account all factors - death rates, impact on all levels of society, and sheer cost, the answer is as obvious as the question: Yes, of course they should!

So why aren't they? More on that in a minute.

Tobacco tops alcohol

Alcohol, in spite of all the bad publicity it gets and the $billions spent on advertising, isn't even close to tobacco, which is the deadliest killer drug in the US by far. And as we said, opioids are miles below tobacco.

Various estimates linked 480,000 to 540,000 deaths a year to smoking. If people simply don't smoke, their risk of heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, COPD such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, and a host of other debilitating conditions, drop significantly.

We're still at risk from air pollution. But if tobacco smoking magically disappeared, we'd still save hundreds of millions of lives and hundreds of $billions of dollars.

Countless experts point out that tobacco is the number one most preventable cause of death in America.

Alcohol tops opioids

Alcohol abuse claims more lives than guns and traffic accidents combined, even more than the toll taken by HIV/AIDS at its peak.

Back in 2010, the CDC estimated that drinking alcohol caused 1 in every 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2010 were estimated at $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink. Some of the fatal alcohol-related conditions since then have risen, along with the costs.

Since April is Alcohol Awareness Month, let's look at some of these alcohol related conditions:

  • liver cirrhosis
  • alcohol poisonings
  • alcohol related crimes
  • driving while intoxicated
  • miscarriage and stillbirth
  • fetal alcohol disorders
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • liver disease
  • digestive diseases
  • cancers of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon
  • dementia and impaired learning
  • mental health problems such as depression and anxiety
  • family breakdowns, lost productivity and unemployment

Experts point out that alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the US.

Why aren't tobacco and alcohol "epidemics"?

Why does government, the media and the public take so little notice of these horrendous epidemics?

The Vox article suggests we're kind of numb to it all because tobacco and alcohol have been legal for so long we just don't pay attention.

Another factor has to be financial. Tobacco and alcohol make $billions and employ tens of thousands workers around the world.

The tobacco industry was heavily fined by states back in the 1990s, and smoking statistics have improved as a result. Unfortunately, numerous states have spent some or all of the tobacco fine money for uses other than the anti-smoking programs they were supposed to finance.

The alcohol industry, on the other hand, has not faced the legal problems tobacco did. Instead, it has relied on a powerful, deep-pocketed lobby, and continues to keep a federal agency in its pocket to finance unscientific "favorable" research while stifling legitimate "unfavorable" research.

America will have to take better notice of the situation, and perhaps ask for more responsible action from their political representatives, if these situations are to improve.

Meanwhile, Novus continues to help people dealing with alcohol abuse to improve their health and get their lives back.

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