Vaping vs. Opioids: The crisis we forget about

The opioid crisis is taking the backseat again


Flickr Creative Commons: Vaping360

By Nicole Biagioni, Collegian Columnist

In April 2019, I wrote an article for The Massachusetts Daily Collegian about the opioid crisis. The opioid crisis, I felt, had faded away because it was neither significant nor important based on an overdose that happened in my hometown. Now the opioid crisis has again taken the backseat as a new health crisis has taken the spotlight — vaping.

Vaping is a problem. The death toll has risen to a total of 18 people as of Oct. 3. The lung illness tied to vaping is practically unknown and is affecting over 1,000 people.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker took vaping seriously and called for a “public health emergency.” Baker declared a four-month temporary ban of the sale of all vaping products. Baker said, “We as a Commonwealth need to pause sales in order for our medical experts to collect more information about what is driving these life-threatening vaping-related illnesses.”

The ban calls for concern as people who vape are forced to look for other methods to curb their cravings for nicotine. Yes, people can go to Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire or even Maine to get their vaping products, but how long is it going to be until those states ban vaping products? Soon people will have to turn to other sources such as cigarettes to fulfill their addiction, which could undo 20 years of anti-smoking campaigns.

Gov. Baker hit the nail on the head regarding vaping and took an aggressive approach to the issue. Yet he is facing repercussions for the ban as vape shop owners are forced to close their shops, which disrupts those people’s incomes and livelihoods. But would the same principles apply for opioids? Should we stop prescribing opioids because we know how addictive the drug is, and start researching a different pain reliever that doesn’t have such side effects?

The opioid crisis is still a looming concern. It doesn’t just go away if you don’t think about it. Nationally, 70,237 people overdosed in 2017, with 47,600 of those deaths related to opioids. Opioid deaths decreased by 4 percent in Massachusetts from 2016 to 2017, but fentanyl, a synthetic pain reliever 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, has been the silent killer in overdoses.

Furthermore, on Oct. 2, Dr. Joel Smithers was convicted of illegally prescribing 500,000 doses of opioids. Half a million. Let that sink in. Smithers received a 40-year prison sentence for his actions, but just think about the results from overprescribing opioids to the general public. According to The New York Times, Smithers, “prescribed controlled substances to every patient in the Martinsville, Va., practice he opened in August 2015.” People flocked to Smithers, a drug dealer in disguise, to get any sort of opioid.

The real question is, do people care enough to do something? Gov. Baker presented a $110 million plan to fight back against opioid addiction in 2017, while on Sept. 26, the National Institute of Health funded $945 million in research to 41 different states to find better sources for pain relief and help with opioid addiction recovery programs over the course of the 2019 fiscal year. Even the Trump administration is taking charge to combat the opioid crisis. On Sept. 4, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced $1.8 billion in funding to states to continue the fight against the crisis.

If we have to decide whether vaping or opioid addiction is worse, opioids are a clear winner due to the magnitude of the crisis. I am not trying to say the vaping crisis isn’t a valid crisis. It is most certainly a genuine concern. In 2018, there was an uptick in vape usage across the board from eighth graders to college students. In addition, the unknown lung disease striking people across the country is a threat that needs to be better researched to give the public some understanding.

But we cannot sweep the opioid crisis under the rug and forget about it all together. The opioid crisis is a nasty beast that will be hard to defeat in the coming years as the rise of fentanyl usage plagues the United States. We may have won the battle with a slight decrease in opioid-related deaths, but the war is far from over.

Nicole Biagioni is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]