CDC Criticized

Tracking the opioid epidemic — as an epidemic — would foster greater awareness of the sheer size of the problem.
Tracking the opioid epidemic — as an epidemic — would foster greater awareness of the sheer size of the problem.

This year drug overdose deaths may exceed 70,000 Americans. We do not really know, however. We have no estimate of the number of non-fatal overdoses and no estimate of how fast addiction is spreading.

Over 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016 and that number has been growing at 20 percent a year. So it is likely that more than 170 Americans are dying each day from illegal drug use. Why, then, is the response to these deaths so much less urgent than the reaction to a health crisis such as the E. Coli outbreak in lettuce that has, so far, killed one person?

The most deadly part of the overdose carnage, the opioid epidemic, has yet to be treated as a true epidemic by the institution intended to combat such dangers — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most critically, though the death rate has reached historic levels, CDC has not committed resources to track the threat in a timely manner. It offers no real-time information on the spread of opioid use and addiction across America and CDC’s reports of overdose deaths lag by almost a year.

Contrast this response to the reporting on the Ebola virus in 2014, which caused one death in the U.S. in four reported cases. CDC received over $500 million for domestic preparedness and response and a total of $1.77 billion for domestic and global Ebola efforts for 2015–2019. Or compare the tracking and CDC funding for the Zika virus. Zika-related birth defects, certainly a serious risk, in reality involved fewer than 7,000 women between 2015 and 2018. Yet in 2016 alone, CDC received $1.1 billion in Zika response funding.

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