Aren't All Lives Worth Saving?

By Dean Dauphinais 05/15/14

Drug overdoses now kill more people in the United States annually than motor vehicle crashes.


Check out more fresh voices in The Fix's new blog section.

Something's been bothering me for the last month and I finally decided to put it "out there" and, hopefully, see what other people think.

On March 31st it was announced that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) - the body of the US government that regulates automobile safety - would require rearview cameras in all cars by 2018.

According to the article I read in the Detroit Free Press, "On average, there are 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries caused by back-over crashes each year, and more than half involve children under the age of 5 or adults age 70 or older, the [NHTSA] said." I'm all for saving human lives, so I think requiring this technology on all cars is a great idea.

But when I read a little further in the same article, I read this: "By requiring all vehicles to be equipped with [rearview cameras], NHTSA estimated automakers can prevent between 13 and 15 deaths and as many as 1,300 injuries annually." That's when I started thinking.

Here we have a United States government agency mandating auto manufacturers to include technology on all of their cars in order to save an estimated 13 to 15 lives a year. The car companies have no say in this matter. They have to do it. Consumers have no say in this matter either. Any car purchased in 2018 or beyond will have a rearview camera as standard equipment. It doesn't matter how much money it costs the automakers to add the camera or how much money it adds to the price of the vehicle. This is an NHTSA mandate and that's that.

Like I said earlier, I value all human lives. And we should do anything we can to save them. But here's what irks me.

The government is mandating every automobile company out there to comply with a regulation that will save about 14 lives a year. Meanwhile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Drug Overdose in the United States: Fact Sheet:

Deaths from drug overdose have been rising steadily over the past two decades and have become the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Every day in the United States, 105 people die as a result of drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments (ED) for the misuse or abuse of drugs. Nearly 9 out of 10 poisoning deaths are caused by drugs.

Simply put, drug overdoses now kill more people in the United States annually than motor vehicle crashes.

My point is not that preventing 14 deaths a year by requiring backup cameras in cars is a bad idea. My point is that the government should be doing more to reduce the number of lives lost to drug overdoses each year.

Again, according to that CDC fact sheet:

In 2010, 30,006 (78%) of the 38,329 drug overdose deaths in the United States were unintentional, 5,298 (14%) of suicidal intent, and 2,963 (8%) were of undetermined intent.

More than 30,000 deaths from unintentional drug overdoses in 2010. THIRTY THOUSAND. And that was four years ago. You can bet that number is higher now. Yet the government still drags its heels when it comes to working to reduce that startling figure. Where is the sense of urgency to save those lives?

A Drug Policy Alliance fact sheet entitled The Drug Control Budget came out in February of this year. Here's an excerpt from that fact sheet (the bold-facing of some text is my doing):

The Obama administration says that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. Yet its budget and its drug policies have largely emphasized enforcement, prosecution and incarceration at home, and interdiction, eradication and military escalation abroad. Even what the government does spend on treatment and prevention is overstated, as many of its programs are wasteful and counterproductive.

The federal drug war budget totaled roughly $25 billion in 2013, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has requested an even larger budget for 2014. An additional $25 billion is spent at the state and local levels on the drug war every year.

A significant majority of this annual budget - nearly 60 percent - is devoted to policies that attempt to reduce the supply of drugs, such as interdiction, eradication and domestic law enforcement. Only 40 percent is devoted to treatment, education and prevention - what is commonly known as 'demand reduction.' Almost nothing is spent on life-saving harm reduction services.

The 2014 budget request is no different. It contains the same basic ratio of supply-to-demand – nearly 60:40. These distorted funding priorities have not changed significantly under the last several administrations.

Supply reduction efforts have proven ineffective, costly and destructive, and have distracted from proven strategies to reduce the harms of drug misuse. Despite incarcerating tens of millions of people and spending more than a trillion dollars in the past forty years, drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available.

That information is pretty eye-opening, don't you think?

So why isn't the government going all out to help save 30,000 lives a year? Where are the "rearview cameras" for the people dying from drug overdoses? Where is the money for adequate treatment, education, and prevention efforts? Why do we continue spending so much money on the ineffective "War on Drugs," prosecution, and incarceration of drug users? Sending people to jail for using drugs doesn't help them. Treatment does.

In a "Sober Conversations" podcast interview with Gary Mendell - the founder of and a father who lost a son to an addiction-related suicide - Dr. Herby Bell asked a great question:

We've got end-stage kidney disease where hemodialysis is necessary. We see dialysis units on more and more corners of America because people need this to sustain their lives. . . . Why aren't [we] seeing places called 'recovery health centers' in every metropolitan market so that people can have less barrier to entry and receive the care they need - from acute to managed care - over the course of time, so that the capital outlay isn't as much but people are getting the managed care that they need? Why isn't that showing up?

Gary Mendell's answer was hopeful:

To transition to the country that you just laid out, to an America where there are these health centers, very prevalent so people can access them, we now have the legislation in place with the Parity Act and the Affordable Care Act . . . It now has to be implemented. . . .The legislation is now there. But people need to know about it and it needs to happen.

Maybe, just maybe, if the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the Affordable Care Act can both kick into high gear, things will start to change and lives will start to be saved. Let's hope so, because there are far too many people dying from a disease that is treatable. The government needs to wake up and attack the problem properly.

Let me know your thoughts on this subject by commenting below.


P.S. I also believe the government should be requiring more safeguards and responsibility from pharmaceutical manufacturers and monitoring/limiting how many prescriptions doctors write for potentially addictive drugs; especially opioid pain relievers. The fact that teenagers go to the dentist to get a couple of teeth pulled and often times walk out of the office with a prescription for Vicodin is troubling to me. But that's for another blog post.

Dean Dauphinais works tirelessly to break the stigma associated with addiction. He is the author of the blog "My Life As 3D: 3D-mensional Musings from the Father of An Addict," a member of the Parent Support Network at the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, and a Lead Advocate for Heroes in Recovery. You can follow him on Twitter.

(NOTE—This is one of the new voices The Fix has commissioned for our new blog section. And if you'd care to add your voice to the mix, check our brief and simple requirements.)

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Dean Dauphinais .jpg

Dean Dauphinais works tirelessly to break the stigma associated with addiction. He is the author of the blog My Life as 3D: 3D-mensional musings from the Father of a Person in Long-Term Recovery from Addiction, a member of the Parent Support Network at thePartnership for Drug-Free Kids, and a Lead Advocate for Heroes in Recovery. You can follow him on Twitter.