Presentation explores effect of opioid crisis in U.S.

By Paolo Tax/reporter

The opioid epidemic, which killed 70,000 people in 2017 alone, has affected the U.S. for years, and SE Campus students learned more about the issue during a workshop March 29.

SE sociology associate professor John Malek-Ahmadi screened an episode of the public television show “Nova” that sheds light on the effects of the opiate addiction and how readily these deadly painkillers are available to the public.

The episode is based around four people in West Virginia, the state with the country’s highest per capita number of overdose deaths. They all shared their stories of substance abuse, encompassing the struggles of addiction and the hardships it takes to overcome them.

The documentary focuses on the decriminalization of opiate users and the stigma behind being an addict.

“Sending someone to prison isn’t going to help them get better,” Malek-Ahmadi said. “These drugs interfere with an individual’s dopamine receptors, causing them to rely on the drug as no longer a way to ease the pain of what its first intention was, but to release endorphins.”  

The episode pointed out that seeing substance abuse as a mental illness versus a prison sentence is the first step toward ending the crisis. In the documentary, Dr. Rahul Gupta, a West Virginia state health officer, described the rate of deaths as “a Boeing 747 crashing every day.”

NW nursing student Christian Olivar said seeing the episode was eye-opening.

“This documentary helped me understand the reality of how vital it is to see the opioid crisis as an illness when everyone tries to demonize it,” Olivar said. “It helped me sympathize with the families and individuals who all have and are going through this, without ever wanting to.”