The Darkening Horizon

As life expectancy plunges, cops will be the ones to answer the calls

By David Magnusson  |   Dec 10, 2018

“The latest CDC data show that the U.S. life expectancy has declined over the past few years. Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide. Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable. CDC is committed to putting science into action to protect U.S. health, but we must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier lives.”

I want you to read this and digest this. It is a news release from Dr. Robert Redfeld, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Sobering Facts

The above release was disseminated on 29 November 2018. So what does it mean? First, there’s a continuing trend of life expectancy decline in this country. It recently dropped from 78.7 years to 78.6 years. Not a big deal, right? Well, it does represent the biggest continuous decline since WWI and the Spanish Flu of 1918 – 19. Not even WWII played into this equation. The big money tickets here are drug overdoses, liver disease, and suicide. Sadly, they are all related.

Yes, drug overdoses are up 10% this year over last year. But the good news, if you wish to call it that is that this is far smaller than the 21% jump from 2016 to 2017. The very concerning news is the highest suicide rate since 1975. Fourteen out of every 100,000 people in this country committed suicide in 2017. This is a 33% increase over 1999. The 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, will be the highest ever in this country.

OK, Good Info But Why Should We Be Concerned?

First of all, we, in law enforcement all agree that mental health issues have affected police work: our response and our ability to get a handle on things—correct? Well then, how can record-setting drug overdoses, and, even more so, rising suicide rates be any less problematic within American law enforcement?

Is marijuana a gateway drug to opioids? Is there a way we can nip things in the bud at a very early age so that teens and young adults do not “graduate” to harder drugs? Is there a fork in the road where we (society) can steer that young child to the road that will not lead to opioid abuse and ultimate death? How can we change the paradigm that has just about made marijuana an acceptable way of life? I mean, think of it: Someone walks down the street at 1000 hours with a joint in his hand and everyone thinks he’s a hipster. Someone walks down the same street at 1000 hours with a gin martini in his hands (stirred not shaken, of course) and everyone thinks he’s an alcoholic. In my opinion, there’s nothing particularly cool about mind-altering chemicals.  Alcohol, as mentioned above with the reference to liver disease is a major problem in this country already.

[A historical note: President Rutherford B. Hayes’ wife, Lucy, banned alcohol in the White House, thus earning her the nickname “Lemonade Lucy.”  She banned it (and her husband was in agreement) after they witnessed all the alcohol-related fighting and insults that went on in the Washington, D.C., establishment parties. I’m not an advocate for prohibition. Not in the least. But I’ve seen first-hand how some battle with moderation when it comes to alcohol and marijuana.]

Police must be concerned because we’re watching a cancer from the point of a skin blemish that just does not look right. If we do not go to the dermatologist, it may ultimately become melanoma. Then it may reach the lymph nodes. From there it’s game over.

With rising drug abuse comes more theft, more turf wars, and more overdoses. It also brings more suicides. With more suicides may come more aggressive responses from the afflicted.

I’ll add that while Hawaii’s life expectancy is 81.3 years (highest), Mississippi’s is 74.7 (lowest). Same country, but more than a 6 ½ year difference. So yes, location counts. There will be areas where the best strategies work and other areas where hardly a dent will be made. The disparity is mind-boggling.

So Now What?

Law enforcement must read and re-read the aforementioned CDC release. It is a clarion call that nothing good is going to take place if these statistics continue to climb. It really is that scary.

The CDC message represents a decaying of morals, a breakdown of mores, customs, and norms. Crime will rise. Violence will too. Why? Because it always has under such an environment. We (law enforcement) may not see it just yet. But if it doesn’t change quickly (and there’s nothing to indicate that it will), society in general will feel the full impact of the tornado force winds. If that happens, we’ll be on the lookout for a storm shelter—and that would be us.

Stand by.

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David Magnusson

David Magnusson

Magnusson is retired as the chief of Havelock (N.C.) Police Department. He spent 30 years with the Miami Police Department, retiring there as a major. He is a graduate of American Military University with a Master's in Military history. Chief Magnusson also boxed as an amateur for twenty-six years.
David Magnusson

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