By Alaina Perdon

Elm Staff Writer

Road safety in the United States is not to be taken lightly. From extensive lessons in schools to lengthy licensing processes, the dangers of vehicular operation are stressed from an early age. Instances of motor vehicle crashes in the United States are ever-dwindling: Recent reports from CNBC state that the odds of a fatal car crash have dropped to one in 103, a stark difference from the almost one in 30 odds seen a mere decade ago.

Yet the addiction epidemic continues sweeping the nation. Accidental opioid overdose has now surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of death in America, with instances of death reported at one in 96 as of January in the same CNBC report. After nearly 45,000 deaths in 2016, the country decided it was time for change, increasing the rate of drug-related incarcerations dramatically, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation.

So why, then, have drugs continued to kill Americans — including thousands less than 20 years old?

Unlike stringent driver’s education lessons, opioids are oftentimes considered a taboo topic. There is infrequent mention of the mental health issues behind an addiction, the neurochemical havoc drugs wreak on the brain, or the far-reaching impact addiction has on the user and those around them.

What’s more, unlike the lengthy series of permits and licenses required before getting behind the wheel, these dangerous substances are all too accessible. A then-17-year-old Washington College freshman, who wishes to remain anonymous, described her experience at the local hospital after being admitted for mild burns, following a tea-making mishap at the beginning of the fall semester:

“They pumped me full of morphine right away. And as I was leaving, they handed me a full bottle of oxycodone to take if I needed it — no prescription, just a bottle of pills. But I was so out of it from the morphine that, without [my roommate] taking care of me, I could have easily taken the whole bottle.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appeared in emotional commercials pledging to keep drugs away from his citizen’s children, but politicians fail to address the actual issue at hand: America’s crisis is not one of opioids, but one of ignorance.

We cannot simply incarcerate nearly 300,000 American citizens for drug-related offenses, believing that locking them away will keep drugs off the streets. We cannot hand children bottles of pills, trusting that a five-minute health class video has educated them well enough to handle that power. We cannot treat mental illness like a personal choice, punishing those who deviate from neurotypical ideals and failing to accommodate their differences or alleviate their struggle.

If we continue in this manner, focused on punishment instead of education and understanding, the death toll will only continue to increase. Reported deaths by opioid overdose are oftentimes linked to misuse of prescription drugs, which may act either as a direct cause of death or a gateway to substances such as heroin.

The deaths we see will seldom be the stereotypical “hardcore drug addict” most of us envision. They will be the eager student who just wanted a cup of tea or the hardworking father who suffered a tragic accident. They will be our neighbors, our peers, and our children.

The Elm

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