How Can We Make REAL Progress on the Drug Crisis in the 2020s?

Crowd walking in sunshine on the street

We have just passed into a new year and a new decade. There is some significance to that. We are saying our goodbyes to 2019 and the 2010s and saying hello to the year 2020 and the new decade of the 2020s.

There is much that we need to work on in the new year and the new decade. Lots of areas of life in the U.S. could stand some improvement. But when it comes to public health, one area comes to the forefront as needing improvement fast. We need to work on, address, and finally resolve the American addiction epidemic. This public health emergency has been a traumatic crisis in our nation since the turn of the century. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their lives because of it, and millions of families have been ruined as a result. The addiction epidemic has to end.

Two Summaries that We All Need to Keep in Mind as We Move into the 2020s

While doing research for another article, I came across a relevant health report from Brookings. The report offered a pretty striking analysis of the current state of addiction in America. Their summary is worth quoting, as its conclusion should weigh on our minds as we prepare for the new decade.

“… What has been missing is an approach that addresses the epidemic’s root causes by dealing with both demand and supply.”

“Over 1 million Americans died from suicide or drug or alcohol-related deaths from 2006-15. The U.S. boasts more opioids per capita than any other country in the world. These ’deaths of despair’ are most prevalent in the American heartland, in places where manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs have disappeared. Policy for opioid and related addictions, at least at the federal level, has focused on saving addicts from overdose death by extending the supply of ’opioid antagonist’ medications to first responders and relevant medical personnel. What has been missing is an approach that addresses the epidemic’s root causes by dealing with both demand and supply.”

Brookings hit the nail on the head, and I’ll unpack some of their concerning statements in the next section.

Another summary we need to keep close to our hearts when we make plans for addressing the drug problem in the 2020s is the sheer number of people in the U.S. who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

“In 2017, approximately 19.7 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder (SUD) related to their use of alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year, including 14.5 million people who had an alcohol use disorder and 7.5 million people who had an illicit drug use disorder. The most common illicit drug use disorder was for marijuana (4.1 million people). An estimated 2.1 million people had an opioid use disorder, which includes 1.7 million people with a prescription pain reliever use disorder and 0.7 million people with a heroin use disorder.”

That data hits home just as forcefully as the Brookings data does. It’s nothing short of a wakeup call to learn how many people in the United States struggle with addiction.

Three Areas We Need to Improve On in the 2020s

Helping woman

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when we look at how we got into the drug addiction epidemic we are now in. There were a lot of factors that contributed to the drug problem. If we can improve on three key areas in the next decade, we can create a better future for our society and for the following generations.

We need to make drug and alcohol addiction treatment more available. From the cited data that I quoted above from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, we know that there are at least 19 million people in the U.S. who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. That’s about 6 percent of our population.

Fixing the addiction crisis and repairing the health of the nation is going to depend on making residential treatment accessible to the millions of Americans who need it. Those millions of addicts are not going to overcome drug and alcohol addiction on their own. Addicts need professional help, and residential drug and alcohol rehab centers offer the best tools, staff, facilities, and programs for providing that help.

We need to turn away from strategies that don’t work. In a well-intentioned effort to tackle the addiction crisis, the nation has adopted a few strategies that simply do not work, or that do not work well. One good example is the excessive use of Medication-Assisted Therapy.

The cited segment from Brookings, above, touched on this. In the United States, MAT is quite literally considered the “standard of addiction treatment.” And that’s a big mistake. We can’t just give addicts medications and hope that meds will solve their addiction problems. Addiction is a complex, physical, behavioral, mental, and spiritual problem that requires treatment and care to overcome. Not just another pill bottle.

Students on a lesson

We need to work harder on preventing drug use from ever taking place. This strategy requires the least capital investment, yet has a significant return on investment. We do need to help the almost 20 million people who are currently addicted to drugs. But just as critically, we also need to make sure that more people do not become addicted to drugs and alcohol.

This is where prevention comes into play. The addiction nightmare will not go away as long as more new people become addicts each year. We need to educate our youth. We need to teach them the truth about drugs and alcohol. We need to support law enforcement in keeping drugs out of our communities. We need to raise awareness of the drug problem within our communities.

We can create a better world in 2020. And we should do so. We don’t have a choice. This is it. This is the moment where we either create a better life for millions of Americans, or it is the moment where we dive further into the drug crisis. I’d like to see us move towards the former.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.