The Other Epidemics

We would be lying to you if we didn’t tell you that things other than infectious disease and vaccine-preventable diseases are not the only thing that take up our time. Humanity is kind of a funny set of organisms. We do things to ourselves that harm us and harm others.

The opiate epidemic started because people couldn’t deal with pain properly, and their healthcare providers didn’t provide them with adequate care and pain management. Instead of getting to the bottom of what hurts, they were given a pill and sent on their way. The pain was still there, but it was numbed by the medicine. (By “pain,” we mean all the things that make one’s life unbearable, and not just physical pain.) When the medicine ran out, they caught on to the fact that heroin is an opiate, albeit a much stronger one. When the heroin couldn’t do the job anymore, they moved on to stronger opioids like fentanyl. And so, here we are, faced with a man-made epidemic of something that could have been nipped in the bud a decade ago if someone would have just encouraged more mental health treatment for those pains in life that are not physical or are physical but exacerbated by mental anguish.

More recently, public health authorities have declared “second-hand alcoholism” as a public health problem. What is that? When you’re hurt in a car accident that is caused by a drunk driver, you’re the victim of second-hand alcoholism. When you’re born with fetal alcohol syndrome, you’re a victim of second-hand alcoholism. Basically, when someone hurts you because of their drinking, you’re a victim, and there are ways to prevent it from happening.

Obesity? I bet you’ve heard about this one. There is a good chance that you’re fighting with obesity yourself if you’re an American. High-calorie foods and more sedentary lifestyles have brought on increased waist sizes, heart disease, diabetes and increased risk of other diseases and conditions. This one is a tough one because we all need to eat, and the better-paying jobs are usually not the ones that require us to burn a ton of calories. It’s not like you can cut-off people from food or send them to work into the fields. It’s also a matter of where you live because, if all you have is a bodega that sells cheap junk food, you’re not going to have a salad anytime soon.

Then there is the other epidemic, the one that has hit some of us very hard. We’re talking about suicide. When the housing market crashed in 2008, a lot of people lost their jobs and their pensions in a matter of days to weeks. It wasn’t a slow process, or a process that is easier to adjust to. When that happened, desperate people didn’t see any other way out from their predicament than to take their own lives. It wasn’t hard due to the incredible number of guns that are readily available in this country.

As you can see, there are many other things that those of us in public health are focusing on. There’s just too much to do because there is so much we do to ourselves and to others. So don’t miss us too much… But do miss us.