Did you ever read something in the news that just knocked your socks off? Especially since it made clear that a problem that was easy to dismiss as happening somewhere far from home is actually happening painfully close to home? I just did – and it was strangely buried in a Washington Post article today.
According to the piece, no less than 34 percent of residents of my adopted state of Maryland say that they “have…family or close friends who are or have been addicted to prescription pain pills or heroin….” That’s about one in three!
To be sure, that doesn’t mean that 34 percent of Marylanders are addicted themselves. But it means that addiction has affected the lives of more than one in three in major ways.
Some of the various demographic breakdowns in the Washington Post-University of Maryland survey that produced these results were almost as stunning. To be sure, one result mirrored what has been increasingly reported on a national level: More whites (38 percent) than non-whites (30 percent) or African-Americans specifically (32 percent) reported relatives or close friends who are addicts. In addition, the wealthier (especially with annual incomes over $100,000) were a good deal less likely than those earning less than $50,000 to be so impacted by addiction (by 41 to 29 percent).
But the difference between the share of those closely affected who held college degrees (31 percent) and those that lacked such degrees (36 percent) sure didn’t strike me as all that wide. And despite the above racial results, the region in Maryland with the highest share of residents affected was heavily African-American Baltimore (42 percent) and those parts of the state outside the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area (41 percent) – which can be pretty white. Yet addiction had a much smaller impact on also heavily African-American Prince George’s County in the D.C. area (where I live) – 22 percent.
I tried to find some information on how these Maryland results compare with those of other states. One study that looks pretty authoritative – this one from the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). As of 2015, it found that just under 2.6 million Americans suffered from the kinds of opioid abuse problems studied in the Post-University of Maryland poll. Given that the total U.S. population is currently estimated at nearly 325 million, that makes the Maryland figures seem astronomical (even keeping in mind the difference between the ASAM figures, which presented the numbers of addicts, and the Post-University of Maryland survey, which gauged how many individuals knew an addict well).
But even if the latter poll is off by 100 percent, and the problem is only half as wide-ranging as it judges, that still strikes me pointing to a shockingly high level of actual addiction. All the more reason to be thankful that this scourge is finally attracting serious national attention, and to hope that this growing spotlight leads to effective and lasting solutions.