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The United States Is Facing Its Worst Health Crisis in History And Hollywood's Been Warning Us For Years

The United States is facing the biggest health crisis in history due to the concerning increase in drug consumption, especially opioids. Fentanyl has taken every corner of the country, and the situation has gone out of control. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), around 1,500 people die every week due to opioid overdose. 

In 2020, around 40 people died per day in the U.S. because of opioids. Now, this number has escalated to more than 100 and fentanyl is to blame. This drug is also derived from opium but its effects are fifty times more deadly than, for example, heroin, which has been a cause of death for several years. But now, that has changed.

Opioids gained popularity during the 1990s when doctors started to prescribe them to help patients dealing with intense pain like cancer or joint pain. Then, in the mid-90s, Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company, developed a new drug to help ease the pain called OxyContin. Soon, what began as legal medication, turned into addiction and dependency, and the Sackler family (who owned Purdue Pharma), found a new way to make millions of dollars. 

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the first wave of this health crisis struck the U.S., and in 2010, the second wave hit the country. In this case, heroin became the main protagonist due to the high levels of addiction it causes to the brain, and a couple of years later, fentanyl entered the drug market, worsening the situation. Drug trafficking and commercialization made the government lose track of how these drugs arrive in people’s hands and now, the situation is worse than ever as the United States enters its fourth wave, and Hollywood’s been warning us about it for years.

Earlier this year, certain videos started emerging on social media that depicted people walking around the city like zombies. And no, they weren’t videos taken from a sci-fi movie, they were from real life, and they show cities turned into wastelands and the hard truth that thousands of people are living each day. Now, those videos have become a daily thing as the situation gets worse and worse.

Some people say that the situation is not that bad until Hollywood starts speaking about it. And guess what? Hollywood has been making movies and TV shows about the opioid epidemic (yes, it has already become an epidemic) for years. Without going further, in 2023 Netflix released two productions focused on the OxyContin and Purdue Pharma scandal.

In August, the platform released Painkiller, a miniseries about the birth of the opioid crisis in the United States. It’s based on Patrick Radden Keefe’s article “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain”, posted in the New Yorker; and Barry Meier’s book Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic

Next week, on September 11, David Yates’ new film Pain Hustlers arrives on Netflix too. Starring Chris Evans and Emily Blunt, the film focuses on Liza, a single mother who takes a job in a pharmaceutical company that it’s about to go bankrupt. However, in a turn of events, she finds herself in the middle of a criminal conspiracy. The film is based on the 2022 book of the same name written by Evan Hughes.

This tendency to make movies and other productions centered around the opioid epidemic began in the early 2020s. In 2021, Hulu released Dopesick, which also focused on OxyContin and is based on Beth Macy’s book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America.

But the focus is not only on fiction, as many documentaries have also been produced. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022), The Crime of the Century (2021), Netflix’s Heroin(e), and Recovery Boys are some of the documentaries that people can watch to familiarize themselves and understand how serious the situation is.

There is no coincidence in this, as streaming platforms are creating more and more content to warn society and people about this health crisis that has already reached Canada and Mexico. Fentanyl has increased because of drug trafficking, and many countries are trying to stop this drug from entering their territory. In the past weeks, Argentina has reinforced controls after security forces confiscated more than 500 ampoules of fentanyl.

In the meantime, this crisis has not only affected health but security and economy. Some of the most affected states of the country are also facing several issues due to how dangerous the situation is. More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have been arrested due to drug possession, and in cities like Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Baltimore, robberies and assaults are becoming more frequent, as well as poverty and people living on the streets.

Still, the government has not been able to control them and it’s a matter of time until this drug spreads all over the world. So far, Joe Biden’s government has invested more than $5 billion in the American Rescue Plan, which increases and helps citizens and drug addicts access mental health care as well as treatments to overcome opioid addiction.

Photo credit: Netflix

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