Sunday, December 20, 2015

What Worthwhile Can You do in 11.2 Minutes

Tim McGraw had a huge hit a few years ago in 2004, Live Like You Were Dying. About receiving a shocking diagnosis and less-than-optimistic apparent predictions regarding survivability, the song says that "I spent most of the next days . . . talking 'bout sweet time."

I have a friend that recently got such a shock, learning that lesions had developed on the brain. Conversations apparently followed about specialists, biopsies, operability, and clinical trials. These are the kind of conversations that we may find uncomfortable and depressing, about friends, from long-distance, and I struggle to comprehend how they must feel in first-person.

I have had this friend on my mind often in the last few weeks. I have thought about time and how we take it for granted. Time can seem glacial in our youth, seemingly the next school holiday will never arrive. Unfortunately, even our youth learn that when a deadline approaches, that test, that term paper, time passage perversely and inexplicably accelerates. As I age, I feel time accelerating and perhaps time is framing my perspective more than it ever has. Time seems so short.

How do we spend our time, and what is the relevance of that 11.2 minutes in the blog title?

On average, we spend 19 minutes each day reading. That is about 1.5 eleven minute periods each day. That is not much time reading, and apparently young people spend even less. 

Americans spend an average of forty minutes each day on Facebook and an average of about 46 minutes each day in an automobile. So, each are about 4 eleven minute periods.

The average employed American works 7.8 hours, or 468 minutes each day, about 42 eleven minute periods.

Sleeping? That averages 512 minutes each day, about 46 eleven minute periods.

Two years ago, I penned Dying to Me Don't Sound Like all that much Fun. That post centered on the 2012 statistics regarding death in America, compiled by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Prescription overdose was a "national epidemic." In 2012, the CDC shocked us by reporting that drug overdose was more likely to kill an American than automobile accidents. That was a product of growing overdose and shrinking auto death, but was a surprising headline nonetheless.

According to a 2013 Huffington Post article, deaths in 2010 from drug overdose totalled 38,329, or "105 every day." The article noted that by "comparison, traffic accidents were responsible for 33,687 and firearms 31,672. There was a great deal of hand-wringing and calls for change. States went to war on "pill mills," and millions of dollars were invested in prescription drug monitoring programs. Some states even mandated that prescribers check those databases, others just require that the prescriptions are entered in them.

Progress was reported. It is not an easy problem. This statistic is about all drug overdoses, and much of that occurs with street drugs and not prescriptions. But many contend that prescription pain relievers are "gateway drugs" to the street drugs like Heroin. They seemingly suggesting that all drug overdoses are possible interrelated. In the end, does it matter which drugs are the last straw?

Last night (like most everyone else in America) I ventured to Star Wars, the Force Awakens. It ran for 136 minutes, or roughly 12 eleven minute periods. I do not really pay attention to all the ads that precede the movie, and instead entertained myself with my antiquated i-phone. Imagine my surprise, when I ran across a CNN article pronouncing Drug Overdose Deaths Reach All Time High

Well, that cannot be right? We have taken such bold societal steps? I thought we had drug overdose on the run?

No, CNN reports that we have not made any dent in American drug overdose deaths. In fact, the rate increased double-digits, fourteen percent, from 2013-2014 (2014 is the year under review, and the 2015 results will not be out for months). The 2014 death toll for American drug overdose was 47,055, which was "1.5 times greater than the number killed in car crashes." Just a few years ago we were flabbergasted (one of my fellow judges would instead say "gobsmacked") that drug overdose exceeded car accident deaths, and now American overdose is 1.5 times the vehicle death rate!

Here is some interesting information on the rates of death from automobiles, guns and drugs. 

A little math is in order. Sixty minutes each hour, times 24 hours each day, times 365 days each year equals 525,600 minutes each year. I did the math, but if you doubt me listen to Jonathon Larson's Season of Love released back in 1996 in the musical Rent. Catchy tune, in which they keep repeating this figure, driving the total home, and asking how we use that time. 

Well, if you divide that 525,600 by those unfortunate 47,055 overdose deaths in 2014, you get one American overdose death each 11.2 minutes all year long. In the short time you likely spent reading today, someone died of an overdose out there. There are 129 such deaths each day.

We see a great deal of news coverage about violent death in America. As Don Henley sang in Dirty Laundry, lampooning the news industry, "it's interesting when people die, give us dirty laundry." With dash cameras and cell phones, we increasingly see video of tragedy and violence. But where is the video of those 129 people dying of overdose each day? Tragically, the deaths may eventually get someone's attention, but an even greater tragedy is likely the loss of productivity, vitality and activity that results from the addiction of those who suffer and struggle but do not die.

Far more overdoses in 2014 than gun deaths or automobile deaths. But for some reason, this pandemic does not merit media attention except for a brief mention each year when the annual statistics are released. The entire December 18, 2015 CNN story is 1,351 characters long, not even a letter for each of the 47,055 deaths. This is a little less than the attention CNN paid that day to the financial take of the new Star Wars movie (1,381 letters). Yes, 12 Americans died of overdose while I watched The Force Awakens.

In 2014 the American population was terrified by Ebola. It was a news story on every platform, despite the majority of its impact being thousands of miles away. The total worldwide death toll from Ebola in 2014 was about 4,877 according to the International Business Times.  American overdose death was almost ten times the world-wide Ebola death toll. But it sure did not make the news. 

CNN reports that the leading states for drug overdose are "West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio." I am so pleased that Florida did not make the top 5, but then guilty for this selfish reaction. The death toll is staggering. The story notes that "since 2000, opiod drug overdose deaths rose 200%." Nearly half a million American lives have been lost to opiod drug overdose since then. 

For perspective, that is more than the 418,500 America lost in World War II, according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. This century we have lost more Americans to drug overdose than to the entire catastrophe of World War II!

Seasons of Love from Rent asks us "how do you measure a year in the life," and suggests perhaps "in truths that she learned, or in times that he cried, in bridges he burned or the way that she died." 

We are on Notice and we are failing. People are dying. Tonight while you sleep, statistically, another 46 Americans will die of overdose. While you commute to work Monday or peruse Facebook, statistically, another four Americans will die. As you work through your day of emails, phone calls, trials and tribulations, statistically another 42 Americans will die. And that is only if the 2015 statistics remain on pace with 2014, without the double-digit year-over-year increases that recent years have demonstrated. All day, every day, Americans will die of drug overdose, 129 of them today, tomorrow, and on and on. 

Some are the responsibility of pushers and dealers. Some will suggest that some deaths are intentional and if drugs were not the vehicle, another would be found. Some are suggesting that some volume are the responsibility of physicians. Los Angeles and others have sought to hold the manufacturers of pain medication responsible. 

So, how will we "measure a year in the life?" Must it be in the "way that she died?"

Think "'bout sweet time," and those who learned of tough medical diagnoses this year. They will face months to come of specialists, tests, and treatments. We as a society and as individuals will focus an incredible attention on these people, and rightly so. They will be in our hearts and minds as they should be. Do we owe any less attention and focus to those at risk of death by overdose, whether it is Heroin or pain medication or Xanax?

Does it have to be in the "way that she died?"

We are better than this. 





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