America has been engulfed by the opioid epidemic for nearly two decades, and today, more people are dying as a result than ever before. From 1999 to 2017, almost as many Americans died of an opioid overdose as died fighting in World War II. While it is more critical now than ever before that we draw attention to this epidemic, the media — and cable news in particular — has continually ignored the magnitude of the issue.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that more than 400,000 Americans have died of an overdose involving opioids since 1999. At its current rate, the opioid epidemic’s death totals are set to surpass the 418,500 American lives lost throughout all of World War II this year alone. If serious action is not taken to combat this crisis, the epidemic may even eclipse the staggering number of causalities from the Civil War by 2025.
While the opioid epidemic was previously concentrated in poorer, whiter, and more economically depressed areas of the country, it has since exploded to more urban, diverse regions. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the number of Black and Hispanic Americans killed of an opioid overdose increased by nearly 50 percent between 2015 and 2016.
So how is cable news covering this generational crisis? Mostly by staying mum.
The website Pudding.cool, calculated how often certain words were used on major cable news stations between Aug. 25, 2017, and Jan. 21, 2018.
According to their data, the words “opioid,” “heroin,” and “drug” were used a total of 6,300 times during the five month period. While that may seem like a lot, it is dwarfed by other issues that aren’t claiming tens-of-thousands American lives every year.The NFL national anthem controversy was covered twice as much as the opioid epidemic by cable news channels. Words like “anthem,” “kneel,” Kaepernick,” and “NFL” were said 13,220 times during those same five months.
Cable news was even more fixated on the Russia investigation, stories of possible collusion, Robert Mueller, and General Flynn. The words “Mueller,” “Flynn,” “Russia,” and “Putin” were said nearly 50,000 times on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. In all, the Russia investigation and related matters were discussed nearly eight times as often as the opioid epidemic that’s ravaging our country.
Major media outlets would instead obsess about the president’s latest tweet, Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the flag, or the endless conspiracies of “Russian collusion,” than the most severe health crisis our country has ever faced.
Maybe the lack of media coverage is due to the fact that it’s not a sexy issue, or that those most affected are in the forgotten towns of middle America — in red counties, in red states, that Beltway Insiders have no interest in visiting. It’s also possible that the media is ignoring the issue because over 90 percent of heroin and fentanyl flows across the border from Mexico and greater exposure to the facts could increase support for President Trump’s border wall. But while cable news may turn a blind eye, that does not make this crisis any less real for the people suffering from its consequences every day.
Here is another story the media has neglected to tell: The Trump Administration has done more to fight the opioid epidemic than any other administration. In October of 2018, President Trump signed legislation to provide research funding to find treatment options for pain management that are not addictive, as well as expanding coverage for Medicaid patients fighting substance abuse.
The administration has also partnered with a large number of organizations in the private sector that have committed to fighting the opioid epidemic through drug disposal programs, streamlining medical records, supporting patients in addiction recovery and increasing education on opioids.
At a recent townhall in Las Vegas, First Lady Melania Trump remarked, “I’d also like to take a moment to challenge the media to cover this very real issue as often as possible. In 2017, we lost at least 72,000 Americans to overdoses — that’s 197 lost American lives per day, more than 8 lost lives per hour.” She continued, “I challenge the press to devote as much time to the lives lost and the potential lives that could be saved by dedicating the same amount of coverage that you do to idle gossip or trivial stories.”
I couldn’t agree with her more. Without more significant public exposure to the facts and consequences, and more intense pressure from the media, it’s unlikely that our elected officials will ever take the hard steps needed to end this epidemic.
The media needs to start paying more attention to the opioid crisis; lives are literally depending on it.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.