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Mass Incarceration in America and the Extraordinary Truth of What Happens inside US Prisons

New York City recently announced that its infamous jail on Rikers Island will be closing. For decades, the jail has held an inmate population that is part of the 2.3 million people behind bars in America — more than any other country in the world. As voiced in an opinion column in Newsweek, these numbers are only part of the story. The shocking fact is that the U.S. is totally antiquated when it comes to how we address crime and punishment.

It’s fairly well-known that a good portion of inmates in U.S. jails and prisons are there for drug-related crimes, whether they are there for addictions or drug trafficking — or both. Today, heroin and prescription opioids are the ones that are sending many people to jail. And while we may be quick to blame the convicted people for their problems, they aren’t alone in this. The truth is the drug makers themselves are guilty of knowingly creating the opioid-heroin epidemic, yet they’re not the ones in jail.

The drug industry created the opioid addiction epidemic by introducing long-acting opioid painkillers like OxyContin and changing pain prescription guidelines to make opioids the first choice for many types of chronic pain. The industry also promoted the long-term use of opioids, even though there’s no evidence that using these drugs long term is safe and effective, and downplayed the risk of addiction to these drugs.

According to a report by the U.S. Surgeon General, more Americans now use prescription opioids than smoke cigarettes. These drugs also kill more Americans than car crashes, and lest you think it can’t happen to you, statistics show anyone can become addicted to these killer drugs.

It’s taken much too long for the federal government to recognize this crises as an epidemic, and while it’s good that legislation is now taking place to address it, that doesn’t help the everyday patient who may be struggling with an addiction to pain killers right this minute. That’s why it's extremely important to be fully aware of the addictive potential of opioid drugs, and to seriously weigh your need for them.

Thankfully, there are other ways to address pain. If you are in pain that is bearable, try eliminating or radically reducing grains and sugars in your diet. Take a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 supplement; optimize your vitamin D with regular sun exposure; and if you live in a state where it’s legal, approach your physician about possibly using medical marijuana, which has a long history as a natural analgesic and which, when used correctly, is very low in THC — the component that makes you “stoned” — and high in CBD, which contains its medicinal properties.
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