How do you define "epidemic"?
The bubonic plague wiped out (killed) 25 million people - One-third of Europe’s population.
The Irish famine of the 1800's led to the death of roughly one million people out of a population of eight million; for those who can't do the math, that's 1/8th of the country's population, wiped off the face of the earth (as opposed to 1/16,735th of the population struggling with a bad habit, which seems to be an appealing alternative).
Over 40 million people around the world are currently HIV positive. In the year 2003, 5 million people became infected with AIDS.
All would most likely be considered epidemics by most standards; especially considering our popular definitions for the term, as follows...
"A widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time"
"An outbreak of a contagious disease that spreads rapidly and widely"
"Spreading rapidly and extensively by infection and affecting many individuals in an area or a population at the same time"
Now in regard to opioid addiction and abuse --
This phenomenon is not contagious, does not catch the affected individual off gaurd, does not inevitably sicken, harm, or kill anyone (as does influenza or smallpox), and most importantly, is not in itself a pathology but a deliberate and consentual behavior in which participation is completely up to the affected user. Furthermore, it is reported that about 1 to 3 out of 100 individuals become opioid dependent solely as a result of prescription use. It has also been observed that 80 percent of OxyContin abusers have a previous history of cocaine abuse, and that less than 2 percent of americans report using heroin at any point in their lifetime.
Considering the proper definition of a true "epidemic", and considering the aforementioned statistics, I feel strongly that those who insist that the current trend in narcotic addiction constitutes a disease epidemic, are distorting reality when they speak so hyperbolically. Only an alarmist with an agenda would suggest such a thing. Only "recovery" industry capitalists, underfunded law enforcement bureaucracies, and self deceiving drug users would embrace and such a perception. Conceptualizing narcotic drugs as if they were living baccili while treating their use as an infection which someone somehow "catches" and is hopeless to control or change has created an ideological platform in which self autonomy and personal responsibility are ignored and abandoned, with counterproductive consequences.
One could assume a contributing factor to the high rate of actual narcotic addiction in our present time is the very removal of social stigma towards casual drug use. The failure of the addicted individual to take drugs moderately and responsibly is no longer considered a poor choice to be changed, but rather a chronic illness to "surrender" to and have treated by others - essentially putting the addicted in the position of powerless, hapless medical victim. Compound this with the law of self-fulfilling prophecy, and the learned helplessness instilled by the mainstream approach to "recovery"; and you're likely to see greater rates of problematic opioid use, with characteristic overdoses, and self-indulgent binging by those who have been conveniently absolved of all perceived accountability and self-empowerment, having been convinced that "those ill-intentioned drugs" or "the disease" made them do it.
This indeed might ameliorate a large degree of guilt and shame - I myself have dealt with my own problematic habits and can surely understand the relief one might feel by abandonding all sense of responsibility or power to change, and becoming a medical 'victim'. But this surely is not the case.
What we have here is not an opiate addiction epidemic, but rather an epidemic of social misguidance and mass scale rationalization. Perhaps we fight the drug problem by empowering individuals to make positive choices and better control their own lives; and by rethinking our perspective on the very nature of drugs, drug use, and addiction.
Just my thoughts. What are yours?