In the 21st century, we have seen the withering of middle-class life in America. Manufacturing, which once held out the promise of a middle-class life for those with a high school education, has shed five million jobs since 2000. Now, as Americans grapple with the growing inequality, something startling is happening to working class white America: an epidemic of suicide and drug and alcohol-related deaths across the heartland. Since 1999, this epidemic has resulted in nearly half a million early deaths — a figure comparable to all the lives lost to AIDS in the US. In “The Epidemic,” Peter Sarsgaard — whose own family has battled with drug addiction — travels to Dayton, Ohio, to investigate how the city, once the very definition of industrial invention and middle-class America, has become the epicenter of an epidemic and a symbol of our age of inequality.
Clip: Peter Sarsgaard and the opiate epidemic
Clip: Peter Sarsgaard in Dayton, OH
Clip: Peter Sarsgaard speaks to inmates
Solutions to Bridge the Divide
Drug abuse has taken a heartbreaking toll on many Americans and their families. In fact, more Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes. However, solutions to ending the opiate epidemic exist. Evidence-based treatment programs that work directly with law enforcement and provide medication-assisted treatment and overdose reversal have saved thousands of lives and have the potential to save many more.
In addition, programs that reduce negative stigmas around addiction and provide training and resources to medical professionals to properly prescribe, monitor and discuss treatment options with patients has been proven to stop substance abuse before it starts and reduce barriers to treatment for Americans who need help.