Is Loneliness Driving the Opioid Epidemic?

December 11, 2019, 11:04 PM UTC

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Loneliness is a scourge. It can be nebulous and difficult to pin down. But its effects are all around us—particularly in the health care arena. Retail giant Home Depot, of all firms, is adding to that conversation, suggesting that opioid addiction (a public health crisis tied, at least to an extent, to loneliness, low incomes, and the atomization of society, according to numerous studies) may be contributing to thefts at its stores.

To be clear: Home Depot isn’t trying to claim that the opioid crisis alone is driving store thefts. Sometimes people just, well, steal things, whether the motivating factor be drugs, nice merchandise, or just cold hard cash.

Home Depot chief Craig Menear detailed that ambiguity—and the general trend across the industry—on Wednesday. “This is happening everywhere in retail,” he said. “We think this ties to the opioid crisis, but we’re not positive about that.”

This is a complicated issue, but just consider some of the major bullet points: Suicide rates have spiked 33% between 1999 and 2017, with the most outsized effects among 10-to-34-year olds and 35-to-54-year olds, according to the American Psychological Association (APA); earlier this year, the National Safety Council reported that, for the first time ever, opioid overdoses counted for more preventable deaths than automobile accidents. As in, well more than 100 people die from opioid overdose deaths every day.

We’ve been witnessing the public health effects of loneliness and poverty for a while now, whether it manifests itself as criminal activity, addiction, suicide, or all of the above. (And, by the way, there is significant evidence that all of these issues are related and constitute a vicious cycle.) The fact that a retailer the size of Home Depot is calling the issue is out is telling.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


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