The National Safety Council is adopting the Celebrating Lost Loved Ones map, which allows family and friends of those lost to the opioid epidemic to place an image and description of their late loved one on an interactive map. The project helps raise awareness of the broad impact of the opioid crisis and advances the Council’s mission of ending opioid deaths.
Unintentional, preventable injuries – commonly known as “accidents” – claimed a record high 161,374 lives in 2016 to become the third leading cause of death in the United States for the first time in recorded history, according to Council data analysis. The unprecedented spike has been fueled by the opioid crisis. Unintentional opioid overdose deaths totaled 37,814 in 2016.
“One in four people in the U.S. has been directly affected by the opioid epidemic,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “The Celebrating Lost Loved Ones map can help reduce the stigma around opioid-related deaths by allowing us to get to know those in our community who were loved and are so deeply missed.”
Jeremiah Lindemann, a solution engineer for Esri and a New America Fellow, created the Celebrating Lost Loved Ones map in late 2016 following the death of his younger brother. Since its launch, the map has gathered more than 1,300 memorials from people in states such as New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Florida, California, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota and Virginia.
The map has been a crowdsourced effort, allowing grieving friends and family members to honor their loved ones, share their stories with others and find a supportive community in return.
“We are honored to be part of the National Safety Council effort,” Lindemann said. “Esri has been working with several local governments using mapping and analytics to uncover crucial data around a public health issue that was for years largely hidden. We are happy to the National Safety Council is using the power of Story Maps to communicate the problem and break the stigma associated with the opioid epidemic.”
Esri’s spatial analytics and mapping capabilities are in daily use by city, state and local governments across the country. They are using the company’s location-based tools to better understand the impact of – and plan the best approach for – managing the opioid crisis within their own communities.
The NSC Survivor Advocate Network realized the impact that location intelligence and visualization could have to raise awareness, while also connecting others dealing with opioid tragedy. Taking over the map is the latest component of the NSC mission to eliminate all preventable deaths, in part, by personalizing a crisis that has affected so many people.
Tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses every year – around 50,000 in 2015 – and the number has been steadily climbing for at least the last decade and a half, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Yet drug policies are at times exactly the opposite from what science-based policies would look like. Drug policy has never been based on scientific understanding. Instead, it is based mostly on culture and economic necessities – and a misguided desire to punish drug users harshly. The time has come to do better.
We have an opioid epidemic that looks like it’s going to be deadlier than AIDS, but the criminal justice system handles drug addiction in almost exactly opposite of what neuroscience and other behavioral sciences would suggest, not thinking about the future. A central problem is that drug use warps the brain’s decision-making mechanisms, so that what matters most to a person dealing with addiction is the here and now, not the possibility of a trip up the river a few months or years from today.
We have relied heavily on the length of a prison term as our primary lever for trying to influence drug use and drug-related crime. But such sanction enhancements are psychologically remote and premised on an unrealistic model of rational planning with a long time horizon, which just isn’t consistent with how drug users behave. What might work better is smaller, more immediate incentives and punishments – perhaps a meal voucher in exchange for passing a drug test, along with daily monitoring.
The environment in which individuals live matters, too, especially when that environment pushes alcohol, cigarettes, and prescription painkillers hard. Cigarette advertising, for example, works to make smoking seem like a pleasant escape from the grind of daily life. Meanwhile, drug companies’ advertising campaigns helped push American doctors to prescribe painkillers at much higher rates than in other countries, a fact that has likely contributed to the country’s growing epidemic of opioid addiction.
Basing policy on science rather than on a desire to punish addicts would improve lives, including victims of drug-related crime. To learn that addictive drugs distort the choice process is not the same as showing that addicts are incapable of making choices. Addicts already know full well that their behavior is inappropriate and stigmatized. But mostly questions of morality distract from very practical questions about what works and what doesn’t work to reduce drug-related harm. The costs of current policy are staggering: on average 91 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses.
Prohibition is simply driving commerce underground, creating enormous black-market profits that attract the most ruthless criminal elements. Illegal drugs constitute a trillion-euro-a-year global industry. Those vast revenues enable the cartels to bribe, intimidate, or kill their opponents at will. Prohibition strategies have never worked. People should consider relegalization, as a strategy to break the economic structure that allows gangs to generate huge profits in their trade, which feeds corruption and increases their areas of power.
Approved in 1919, alcohol prohibition led to a steady rise in both alcohol usage and violent crime. Al Capone and myriad mafiosi showed up. The murder rate rose 50% between 1919 and 1933, peaking at 10 murders per 100,000 population in 1933, when the country finally decided enough was enough. Immediately after the repeal of alcohol prohibition, gangsterism went into a swift decline, with all of the major gangs disappearing within 18 months, and the murder rate dropping every single year for more than a decade.