What is the greatest threat to your family and mine? Is it climate change? Is it politicians from that other political party? Is it foreign enemies like North Korea and Russia? Is it jihadist killers? Is it all those foreigners coming in and taking our jobs? ("No Irish need apply" they told my ancestors). It is none of the above, but rather addiction in its many forms. From least to worst here is my list.
Tobacco is perhaps the addiction that we have minimized most. You can't smoke here and you can't smoke there. We have fewer smokers, and most of them live long and productive lives. But I remember my father in his last days getting out of bed and waiting until he could catch his breath. Then he would shuffle down the hall with a mask on his face attached by a long hose to the oxygen tank. Two packs a day did him in. His loss cured me from smoking and I have already lived longer than he did by nearly a decade.
Smoking is no longer stylish, and government regulations have helped mightily.
Gambling is an occasional recreation for most of us but can be addictive for some. The threat to the individual and often his/her family is financial, not physical. Government encourages gambling. I once had a subordinate who would sneak off and spend a long lunch hour at the track. When I disciplined him he burst into tears. It was not the discipline that made a grown man weep, but rather the loss of his track visits.
Marijuana does not kill directly but can ruin careers and contribute to accidents. It is often the precursor of alcohol and hard drug addictions. Too many pot users become addicted to being addicted. Recent government toleration of so-called "medical" marijuana is dangerously short-sighted.
Alcohol is addictive for many. At one point I had a three martini lunch with my coworkers two or three times a week. When I started having physical symptoms, like numbness in my hands, my then doctor advised me to cut down on the drinking. For me that was easy, and now the spouse and I each have one glass of wine with dinner, period. But in our family for some members in generations before and in generations after, alcohol addiction has ruined their careers, their health and/or their marriages. AA has saved one.
We once had prohibition, but it was unpopular and deemed a failure. However, alcohol-related deaths from diseases like cirrhosis of the liver did decrease during prohibition. Other dangers include brain damage or dementia, high blood pressure, irregular heart beat and cancer. Alcohol has been linked specifically to head and neck cancers, breast cancer, colon cancer and liver cancer. Drunk driving still kills many victims.
Finally, we come to the "hard" drugs such as opioids, either prescribed or obtained illegally. This epidemic is sweeping the country and is killing tens of thousands each year. More than 50,000 died of a drug overdose nationally in 2015 and that number is increasing rapidly. At least 4,149 Ohioans died from unintentional drug overdoses in 2016, a 36-percent leap from just the previous year, according to The Columbus Dispatch. The 9/11 massacre pales in comparison.
Some progress has been made in slowing down overprescription, but there are still doctors and so-called "pain management clinics" that are little more than drug dealers. Other doctors are reluctant to rat out these miscreants, but they know who they are.
These epidemics should occupy the headlines, not political maneuvering in Washington or missile tests by North Korea. Addiction is our biggest enemy.
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John Culleton writes this column every other Tuesday. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.