The opioid epidemic is complicated — politics, medicine and social determinants of health, like poverty, all play a role in the widespread increase in addiction to opioids across North Carolina. Perhaps the most complex pillar of the epidemic is culture.
How our society approaches addiction and supports those in need can play a pivotal role in combatting the opioid epidemic — but that culture can also create an environment that hinders recovery, exacerbates challenges for those with opioid use disorders and puts students at risk. As college campuses are forced to grapple with the harsh realities of collegiate opioid misuse, we can draw on our strengths as a cohesive community while addressing the harmful facets of college culture.
This past Monday, Attorney General Josh Stein convened the first meeting of his council on collegiate opioid misuse. The council of undergraduate and graduate UNC-system students is tasked with recommending next steps for combating the opioid epidemic on UNC college campuses. Campus culture was a recurring theme throughout the four-hour long discussion.
America’s culture around pain, medication and addiction is deeply rooted and thoroughly established. In the 1990s, pain was deemed the fifth vital sign through which doctors assess a patient’s well-being. This encouraged doctors to alleviate pain with prescription drugs instead of safer, less addictive alternatives. Soon after, prescriptions of opioids and opioid-related deaths began to rise, giving way to a modern medical crisis that is expected to kill half a million Americans in the next decade.
A procedure as commonplace as wisdom teeth removal can lead to a life-altering opioid addiction. This dangerous simplicity is part of the reason why the crisis has endured for so long, and why it is only now receiving the attention it desperately needs.