Opioid Crisis Now Considered a ‘Syndemic’
The opioid crisis is not a new thing that just popped up. It’s something that’s been happening for quite a while and its left an insurmountable amount of wreckage. It’s stolen children from their parents, stolen parents from their children, killed thousands upon thousands of people and caused a major societal problem. The frightening thing is that there isn’t only one epidemic… there’s several. And with multiple epidemics occurring at the same time and in close proximity to each other, it increased the likelihood that these epidemics would start to sort of, play off each other, if you will. At the moment, there are three different drug epidemics happening, all at the same time. Three simultaneous problems have created an increase in other public health problems besides deaths and overdoses. At this point, the opioid crisis has graduated from being an epidemic and has become something much, much worse.
A “syndemic” is when multiple diseases all feed off of each other and create additional public health problems. The “syndemic theory” was created by medical anthropologist Merrill Singer about ten years ago when he was explaining how epidemics can interplay with each other to create massive, massive problems. Right now, the epidemics we currently have are the methamphetamine epidemic, the benzodiazepine epidemic, and of course, the opioid epidemic. The opioid crisis has been around for quite some time, as well has the benzodiazepine problem, and the methamphetamine problem has recently reappeared in the last few years. The opioid epidemic came first and can be said to have spun the other problems alongside it. What we have happening now is that these three problems have created major increases in new HIV infections, Hepatitis C infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and infectious endocarditis.
All of these drug epidemics have caused major issues nationwide, with different “hot spots” popping up all over the country. State and local public health officials in Massachusetts, alongside public agencies, have been able to evaluate the spreading of these diseases and health issues and have developed what are being called “risk maps” that help study the opioid syndemic geographically, over time. These “risk maps” can find these hot spots where HIV and other infections are spreading or where overdoses are peaking and make the necessary provisions available to help with the problem. Whether it be Narcan, condoms, or clean needles, these items can be made more widely available in order to halt the spreading of the “syndemic.”
I knew that if we didn’t really step up and get a handle on this problem, it was going to get worse, and it has. The opioid epidemic that has claimed thousands upon thousands of lives has now grown into a different, scarier monster. An opioid “syndemic” is what we have on our hands now and if we don’t start to make progress in containing this thing, our society may soon resemble some post-apocalyptic wasteland with the last remaining inhabitants wandering around in a drug-induced haze, confused about where everyone has gone. That doesn’t need to be our future and that doesn’t need to be our kid’s future.
WE are the only ones who can control this.