Leo BeletskyEvery day, nearly 120 Americans die of an opioid overdose. The 2016 mortality figures, slated to be released by the National Center for Health Statistics this Friday, are expected to top previous estimates.

In response to this uncontrolled national emergency, three of America’s top experts on substance use policy, including Professor Leo Beletsky, have co-authored a new article “Opioid Crisis: No Easy Fix to its Social and Economic Determinants” published online in the American Journal of Public Health. The article challenges the accepted wisdom about the overdose crisis and tackles the prevailing narrative about what caused the rapid rise in overdose deaths and urges fresh thinking about policy priorities.

Speaking about the new analysis, Nabarun Dasgupta, PhD, MPH (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), said: “As a first step in addressing the crisis, we must see it a symptom of deep social, economic, and other structural problems in American society.” He explains further: “Opioid prescribing is as much an indicator of Americans’ demand for pain relief, as it is about the supply of opioids.”

The analysis explains that “overprescribing” of prescription analgesics must be seen in light of our health care system’s reliance on quick fixes to address complex physical and emotional patient problems. Beletsky, an associate professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern, notes: “Prescribing opioid analgesics is a simple, but flawed solution to a broad range of patients’ underlying physical and mental health needs. Our reliance of quick fixes has had clear unintended consequences.” In advancing policies whose sole focus is to curtail prescribing, Beletsky notes, “we are similarly drawn by the mirage of simplistic policy measures to address a multi-faceted crisis; truth is, there is no easy fix.”

Dan Ciccarone, MD MPH (Professor of Family and Community Medicine at UC San Francisco) faulted this failure to understand root causes with the evident trajectory of the crisis: “We recognize that drug supply is a key factor, but to adequately address the crisis, we must focus on what is driving Americans to use and misuse opioids in the first place.” He concludes: “Until we acknowledge the underlying issues that led to the triple epidemic of overdose – opioid pills to heroin to fentanyl – we will continue to apply ineffective and counterproductive measures. The crisis will continue to worsen as a result.”

About Northeastern University School of Law

The nation’s leader in experiential legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law offers the longest-running, most extensive experience-based legal education program in the country and is a national leader in legal education reform. Founded with cooperative legal education as the cornerstone of its program, Northeastern guarantees its students an unparalleled full year of practical legal work. All students participate in four, full-time legal placements, and can choose from the more than 900 employers worldwide participating in the school’s signature Cooperative Legal Education Program. The future of legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law blends theory and practice, providing students with a unique set of skills and experience to successfully practice law.