Opioids and Academics: A Case for More Education
I have been fortunate not to suffer from addiction myself, nor have any of my immediate family members or loved ones. However, I was raised in East Tennessee fearing my grandmother’s caregivers would steal her prescribed hydrocodone and fentanyl during her last days, watching our dear family friend fully adopt her two granddaughters when she was age 60 while their mother disappeared into the web of addiction, and watching several family friends slip away never to be heard from again, as their obituaries read, “died unexpectedly” at very young ages.
I was afforded the opportunity to study Business and Political Economy at NYU. There I lived among the highly educated, discussing the international economy, world politics, and the intricacies of the global financial system. Although the opioid crisis and its horrible effects were proliferating rapidly, the crisis somehow faded from my mind as its effects were no longer brought so clearly to my attention. That is, until my senior year, when we were tasked with writing a thesis on the “business and political economy” topic of our choosing. At first, my mind wandered to the Syrian refugee crisis and other far flung international issues thousands of miles away from home. However, around that same time, my Mom sent me a copy of Dreamland. While reading Dreamland, it struck me: although there are undoubtedly thousands of crises happening all over world warranting research, there was also an absolutely critical one happening in my own back yard. This realization led me to focus my senior thesis on the opioid crisis.
I spent the fall of my senior year at NYU meeting with community leaders in Tennessee, researching extensively, speaking with NYU professors, and talking to friends who had been affected by the crisis. Almost everyone had a story to share, and suddenly the opioid crisis seemed to be not such a huge leap from the topics I had studied in school, but rather it applied the same tools I had spent four years mastering, just in a different context. My final thesis took a deep dive into the origins of the crisis and evaluated two different policy proposals to tackle it: a tax on opioid manufacturers versus a quota proposed by the DEA. Ultimately, I advocated for taxation.
I am writing this response today because I believe that more students should be concerned with this issue and that more academic resources should be devoted to it. The opioid crisis reaches far beyond public health and pharmacology. Our businesses and their workforces are destabilized by it, businesses’ healthcare costs have skyrocketed because of it, the trucking industry cannot find enough drivers who can pass a drug test to keep goods on the road. This is a business issue, a political issue, a sociological issue, a scientific issue, a journalism issue, a media issue, and much more. So why are so few of my peers in a variety of majors educated on this issue? Educating more college students, and devoting more academic resources to the issue, seem like great places to start.
Student from New York, NY