The Opioid Epidemic in the United States

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In what is now being referred to as an epidemic, deaths linked to opioid prescription drugs are on the rise in the United States and Canada. Since the 1990s, this epidemic has steadily developed to become the leading cause of death in North America, necessitating immediate intervention by the respective governments. The opioid crisis is currently attracting national attention, with several studies being conducted into the epidemic's origin, scope, and potential solutions. Margret Talbot is one of the journalists who has attempted to investigate the crisis in her report in the New Yorker magazine on October 30th. The article written by Talbot investigates how opioids rose to become the leading cause of death in the United States. The author expresses the fear and alarm that has gripped the nation which has eventually led to political leaders to offer the help needed to combat this epidemic. Talbot begins by explaining that in the last 20 years, deaths and poisonings as a result of opioid overdoses have been rising slowly and for the most part had gone undetected till now when the devastation has reached a new high (Talbot). I felt this was a good way of explaining to the public how long the problem has been in the country and how it has gained the attention of the authorities. In her view, this worrying trend is what has motivated political leaders to come out and address this issue before it worsens. The most significant address came from President Trump who has decided to consider declaring the opioid crisis a national emergency since it requires a lot of attention from government agencies and the public for it to be eradicated.
The author has provided a detailed history of the how opioid abuse came to be an epidemic to give the readers a better understanding of the epidemic and the devastation it is causing in the U.S. The article has offered a stage by stage analysis of how opioid abuse became the biggest killer in America. She has explained how deaths related to opioids have been gradually rising in the U.S. since the 90s which were characterized by numerous overdoses due to OxyContin abuse which by then was the drug of choice (Talbot). These deaths together with the high costs of prescription drugs like OxyContin and Fentanyl prompted the shift to heroin which is much cheaper and easily accessible (Talbot). During these periods the increase in usage of these drugs did not receive any publicity owing to the numbing effects of opioids. I learned that opioids result in the user becoming more relaxed and calm. Therefore, the users do not engage in crime or acting out in manners that can attract attention from the public.
In her article, Talbot has utilized statistics of specific regions and towns to demonstrate how opioid abuse is affecting the whole country. While it was possible to ignore the problem in the past, presently, the overdose cases have risen to levels that can no longer be ignored in regions like the Mid-western where overdoses due to opioids are prevalent. Statistics of counties like Montgomery indicate that the worrying trend is on the rise. The county recorded some of the highest rises in the number of drug overdoses in the last six years; the number of deaths due to drug overdoses in this county was estimated to be 127 in 2010 but rose to 349 in 2016 (Talbot). It is also worrying that the trend does not seem to be slowing down with 65 deaths being recorded in January of 2017. By using real statistics in her article, Talbot manages to demonstrate to the readers the seriousness of opioid abuse in the United States and the damage it is causing to communities and families in the country.
Margret Talbot has organized her work in a manner that has maximum emotional effect on the readers whereby, she has broken down how the opioid epidemic has affected the nation and its citizens to three levels. She has begun by analyzing how abuse of opioids has affected the country at the national level, citing how the government and the public have responded to the matter. The author has quoted the president calling for the classification of the epidemic as a national emergency which means that drastic measures would be taken by the state to combat this problem. She then provided the national casualty figures which are more than 50,000 people in a year and compares this with other epidemics such as Aids and common causes of death such as car accidents (Talbot). The comparison shows how serious the epidemic is since opioid overdoses surpass any other single cause of death in America, causing 10,000 more deaths than Aids at its peak (Talbot). This adds credence to her portrayal of the widespread opioid abuse as having reached a level that has led to it being classified as an epidemic that should warrant concern.
Margaret Talbot then goes further by exploring the opioid epidemic from a regional perspective by using the statistics of Montgomery County as a representation of all the other counties that have some of the highest casualties due to drug overdoses. She provides a detailed account of how casualty figures have risen over time and the effect that this is having on the local health facilities and authorities. Using statistics, in my opinion, gets the attention and trust of the readers. Talbot presents the opioid overdose death statistics of the county, which show a substantial increase in the number of deaths within a six-year period with there being no signs of a decrease in this trend. The county has gone from recording 127 overdoses in 2010 to 349 cases in 2016 and as of January 2017 the county recorded an alarming 65 deaths all due to opioid overdoses (Talbot). The author has used this to sensitize the readers on the extent of devastation that opioid abuse has caused in many American communities and could be seen as her trying to urge the readers into action in their respective communities.
Talbot then goes even further by presenting the opioid epidemic from a personal perspective by interviewing a parent whose son had died due to a heroin overdose; the author has used this interview to indicate the gravity of the matter by appealing to the emotions of the readers. Margaret investigates the death of a young man named Brian Malmsbury by interviewing his parents about his life and how he came to die of a heroin overdose in their home.
Brian`s mother reveals intimate details of her son's struggle with drug addiction, as well as dreams and aspirations that he will never be able to achieve. The mother also provides insight into the environment that Brian lived in, which as she explained, was full of cases of drug overdoses and could have also influenced her son. Through this interview, Talbot manages to offer the readers an intimate perspective into the opioid epidemic that they may not be aware of in a bid to motivate discussion on the topic.
In my opinion, the article by Margaret Talbot has achieved her purposefully which can be deduced as being intended to create awareness on the dangers of opioid use not only in America but other counties in the region. Canada is another country that is also experiencing an opioid abuse problem that is threatening to get out of hand like in the U.S. (BBC). Talbot through the article manages to demonstrate how grave the situation in America is by explaining and providing evidence of how opioid abuse began and slowly morphed into the leading cause of death in America. She has used useful facts and statistics to gain the reader's attention on the matter. From a Canadian perspective, the article is informative and offers a new angle on the effects of opioid abuse which is also starting to emerge in the country.
The article serves as a cautionary tale to the Canadian public and authorities who may be unaware of the devastation that opioid abuse can cause. Margaret shows how the opioid crisis began and gradually evolved over the years largely unnoticed till it was no longer possible to ignore. This article has proved that complacency on the part of society and government can be said to have aided the growth of the opioid crisis in America. Canada can learn from this by coming up with community and government programs that can prevent the opioid crisis from evolving further and claiming as many lives as in the U.S.
Canada recorded more than two thousand deaths due to opioid overdoses in 2016, though this is a small number when compared to numbers in the United States, it is nonetheless worrying (Howlett). As has been proven by Margaret`s statistics, even a small number like that has the potential to slowly evolve within a decade into more than fifty thousand deaths a year. The Canadian public can, therefore, learn from the article and avoid being complacent by becoming more proactive in trying to eradicate this menace. This could be done through awareness programs educating people on the adverse effects of opioid abuse.
The organization of the work was important in getting the message across since it is structured in a way that appeals to the emotions of the readers by showing the devastation caused by the epidemic. Margret has continually zoomed into the effects of the widespread opioid abuse, starting at the national level than the regional and lastly the local level. This breakdown aids the readers to understand how they could be personally affected by such an epidemic. The article can, therefore, encourage readers in countries such as Canada to be more vigilant and apply urgent measures such as community programs geared towards rehabilitation and prevention use of opioids. The Canadian government should also use law enforcement to crack down on the sellers and distributors who should be given harsh sentences as a deterrence.
Margaret Talbot`s article on the effects of the opioid epidemic that was published in the October 30th issue of the New Yorker magazine offers insight on how opioid abuse slowly turned into an epidemic. I found the article to be very informative on the devastation that opioids can have on a country, region, and community. Before reading the article, I was aware of the fact that opioids have been claiming lives in Canada. However, I was not aware of the gravity of this seeing that the historic number of deaths in the U.S. began with similar figures. Margaret has been able to demonstrate how serious opioid abuse is and her article can serve as a wakeup call for countries like Canada that stand to lose a lot if they do not address the opioid crisis with the seriousness it deserves.

BBC, 'Canada opioid crisis hits small cities hardest.' BBC News, BBC, 14 Sept. 2017,
Howlett, Karen . 'Opioid-Related overdose figures show grim reality of Canadian epidemic.' The Globe and Mail, 15 Sept. 2017,
Talbot, Margaret. 'Faces of an Epidemic.' The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 22 Nov. 2017,

August 09, 2021



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