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Record High Opioid Deaths For a Record Low in America

overdose deaths
Written by Sarah Friedman

We’ve been talking about it for a while. About the addictions, and the misuse, and the overdoses, and the death. We’ve been talking about it for years now, and the only thing to happen, is for numbers to go up. A recent report points to record high opioid deaths in the US, and a record low in dealing with them.

Opioid deaths are on the rise, fueling the enormous drug overdose rate in America. What will be done to end this epidemic, and where does ketamine fit in? We report on the growing cannabis and psychedelics industries. You can keep up with everything by subscribing to The Cannadelics Weekly Newsletter, which will also put you in first place to receive promotions for psychedelic products, as they become available to the general public.

What’s the latest?

On May 11th, 2022, the CDC released preliminary data about overdose death rates for the previous year. In 2021, according to the CDC, there were approximately 107,622 overdose deaths, which is a 15% increase from 2020. 2020 set its own record that year, going up 30% from the year before. The overdose death number for 2020, was over 93,000. To be clear, these are only overdose deaths, not specifically opioid deaths. But opioid deaths most certainly drive these numbers, accounting for over 68,000 of the 2020 deaths. So it suffices to say that a quickly rising death rate, is spurred on greatly by opioids.

This is called ‘provisional’ data in that it’s not final numbers, but rather, a first peak into the numbers for the year. Though it’s possible these numbers could change by the time of official release, they are not likely to change in a way that brings the numbers down to acceptable levels. So whether they’re the final and official numbers is inconsequential in this matter, as they show well the scope of the opioid issue in America.

What was the official response to these numbers? White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Dr. Rahul Gupta stated how it was not acceptable to lose so many lives (at the rate of one every five minutes). He went on to say, “That is why President Biden’s new National Drug Control Strategy signals a new era of drug policy centered on individuals and communities, focusing specifically on the actions we must take right now to reduce overdoses and save lives.”

opioid deaths

In April, Biden did send a strategy to Congress for dealing with national drug control, which involves dealing with the overdose epidemic. What that means has not been discussed. But other things have happened in the recent past to indicate that not only is the government not going to do anything useful, but that it actually intends to make the problem worse. Keep reading.

Lower prescribing guidelines?

If the whole idea is to try it actually minimize the opioid deaths issue, the government has made only moves in the opposite direction, and this is more than concerning. In 2016, the CDC issued guidelines for prescribing opioids, which were meant to limit their unnecessary prescription. These guidelines were not legal requirements, but they did set a certain standard for doctors writing prescriptions.

In the midst of this growing issue, what did the CDC do? In February 2022, as in, about three months before these new numbers came out, the CDC proposed loosening these guidelines, which clearly haven’t worked to begin with. The backwards reasoning used relates to doctor’s having to cut off patients prematurely who need their opioids. As the issue has only deepened, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, and signals that its quite the other way around.

To add to the confusion, the CDC doesn’t regulate these things anyway, that’s mainly for the FDA and DEA. And since they therefore aren’t legal regulatory changes, why they exist, or are the basis for news stories, is even more confounding. Loosening guidelines that technically never existed as anything more than illusion, therefore, isn’t a huge thing. But the more fear-inducing aspect is that in the midst of the rising death toll, that this story is the story to come out at all. It shows a lack of understanding of government bodies, and a lack of desire to make real changes that can improve the situation.

What about the lawsuits?

If there’s any question outside the horrifyingly high OD numbers that there’s a substantial and preventable issue – especially concerning opioid deaths, just look at the massive lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies that make them. Just these lawsuits should indicate an immediate need to remove these medications, but even with this information in our faces, the government continues to not only allow these medications, but to promote their use by accepting money from the companies that make them, and not changing regulation for using them.

One of the big lawsuit stories involves the Native American community, which has been hit particularly hard by this epidemic. In February 2022, Johnson & Johnson, along with AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, offered a settlement of $590 million to members of any of the federally recognized tribes that are a part of the suit. This means tribes that did not initiate this lawsuit, can still take part in the settlement. It says quite a bit about understanding their own wrongdoing, that these companies offered such a high settlement. Obviously they didn’t want to go to court.

opioid settlement

And maybe that’s because these same companies have already agreed to pay out another $26 billion globally for their actions. Funny enough, this statement was made by Johnson & Johnson upon agreeing to this deal in February 2022: “This settlement is not an admission of any liability or wrongdoing and the company will continue to defend against any litigation that the final agreement does not resolve.”

Really? Agreeing to settle global suits for an enormous $26 billion…because they feel like it? Imagine what the amount would have been if they had lost in court. Settlements aren’t made by parties that think they’re right, they’re made by parties who are afraid of the worse punishment they’ll incur by going to trial. However, all that aside, just the sheer amount is a clear indication of a mass amount of damage done.

But that’s not the end of it for these Big Pharma companies. Last week, officials in Idaho announced a $119 million settlement against J&J and the other three companies related to the Native American settlement. This settlement is also to help recoup some of the damage done by these drugs to the community, which has suffered a huge amount of opioid deaths. What if every state did this?

According to Governor Brad Little, “Idaho has made significant strides in recent years in combating the opioid crisis, and the culmination of our legal action against opioid manufacturers – led by Attorney General Wasden and his team – now offers additional resources. Altogether, our investments and activities will turn the tide on the opioid crisis.”

Of course, what should be noted, is that Idaho did not ban these drugs from its state. No specific place has made such a move. And this says quite a bit. While everyone wants to capitalize on the blame aspect, and take money from these companies, none want to institute an actual policy (like banning opioids) that could help solve it. Which means even as these settlements happen, the drugs remain available, making for a striking contradiction.

What about ketamine?

If you’ll notice, I implied that these drugs should be removed entirely. Let’s be realistic for a second, the world and its population survived without opioids in the past, so this idea that we need them so badly, is unrealistic at best. We never needed them, we just got used to them.

pain management

Now, the idea of removing a drug from someone that they are addicted to, is obviously not the answer either, as this can cause more trauma to the user, and possibly cause their death. So when I say the drugs should be removed, I certainly don’t mean without having another measure in place. And this is where ketamine comes in, as the obvious and practical answer to the opioid epidemic, which is roundly being ignored by the government.

The reason ketamine is so important is because it’s a dissociative hallucinogen which is tightly associated with two things: the ability to help with a range of psychological issues – including addiction, as well as the ability to help with pain management. Both of these aspects are incredibly important right now. Ketamine doesn’t cause addictions, and is known to help people with them, so the idea of replacing one with the other, actually makes sense. Ketamine can help ease the addiction issue, which is a huge part of this crisis. Add onto that that ketamine can then control the pain issues without causing the addictions and death rates of opioids, and its more than obvious. It becomes criminal that its not being used properly to end this.

If you’re asking yourself how that could be. That an answer could exist, and be known to the government, but ignored and not used in favor of more people dying, it’s actually not that far out. The government promotes plenty of bad things when money is put in representative’s pockets. Ketamine is easily created and exists as a wide gray market, unregulated by the US government. Ketamine is a synthetic product, so its pharmaceutical automatically. So why would the government care if one pharma product is used over another, if its main goal is to prop up pharma companies that give it money?

Ketamine is made everywhere by everyone, and doesn’t rely on Big Pharma specifically to produce it. Which means the big pharmaceutical companies that work in tandem with the government (this can be said due to the large amount of money the government takes from these organizations), can’t control the industry. The US legalized esketamine in 2019 as a showing of this understanding, in an effort to divert from the ketamine market. But even then, it left pain treatment out, even though its now the most important aspect considering the opioid crisis.

How long has it been known that ketamine is a great drug for pain which doesn’t cause the same issues of death and addiction? Since studies done on prisoners in the 1960’s. That means for almost 60 years this information has been known, and yet even now when its needed the most, its being suppressed in order to keep doling out the very drugs that are killing people. The very drugs that bring money into Big Pharma and therefore the US government.


When does this end? I suppose when people smarten up enough to let it. I think it really will require a better understanding by the population at large, of what exactly is going on and why. And the sad thing is, this might not happen, or could take years longer meaning more and more opioid deaths. Luckily, with ketamine on the rise, people should be making the connection soon enough, and hopefully if the pressure builds, the US government will be forced to do the right thing…finally.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.