Tech billionaire Mark Zuckerberg has spent the past year visiting US states and meeting regular people in communities outside the Silicon Valley. His stops included an opioid treatment center, which left a lasting impression on Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg’s eyes welled with tears when he was speaking at the University of Kansas about his encounters with people affected by opioid addiction and the consequences of drugs abuse for them and their families. According to the Facebook CEO, the extent of the opioid crisis turned out to be “the biggest surprise” for him during his tour of America.
READ MORE: CDC: Some Rural California Counties Have More Opioid Prescriptions Than People
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 140 Americans die from opioid overdoses each day. Referencing the thousands of people who have fallen victim to opioid addiction last year, Zuckerberg said that “that’s more people than died from AIDS at the peak of the AIDS epidemic. That’s more Americans that died in the whole of the Vietnam War. It’s more people than die of car accidents and gun violence I think combined, and it’s growing quickly.”
The tech CEO commented on the opioid crisis the day after ex-Facebook president Sean Parker had slammed the social network, noting that it creates addiction and exploits human “vulnerability.”
Zuckerberg also called the situation around opioid abuse in the US a “public health crisis,” stressing that it is not addressed with due attention. However, the billionaire was optimistic as he said that there is a road map for tackling this problem and cited the example of France, which managed to overcome its own opioid crisis in the 1990s.
In the end of October, US President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency. Although the designation does not presuppose any additional funding for resolving the crisis, it still could help redirect existing emergency money, particularly toward expanding access to medical services in rural areas. Nevertheless critics say that without more money to fight the epidemic, Trump’s declaration will amount to little.
Drug overdose deaths accounted for over 60,000 deaths in the US in 2016, according to National Center for Health Statistics figures. Opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin and Percocet, allegedly accounted for 14,400 overdose deaths in 2016, while heroin overdoses killed more than 15,400. Non-methadone synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, meanwhile, were linked to more than 20,100 overdose deaths.
READ MORE: Opioid Epidemic Major Cause of Shrinking US Workforce — Princeton Economist
For comparison’s sake, automobile fatalities accounted for 40,000 deaths in 2016, according to the US National Safety Council, and there were 17,250 homicides, according to FBI data cited by Quartz Media.