Coming out of denial: The economy for the rest of us

complex economy

As I wrote about in another post, in an economy that is in free fall for those who didn’t participate in the recovery, it is a difficult time. Given this, perhaps this is the time to redefine what an economic recovery is and how we might achieve it.

First of all, I will say that I am no economist or financial whiz; I have a background in psychology, social welfare and public health. This is why, to some extent, when I watch the financial news I am struck by how out of touch I am with the kind of indicators that are used to define economic recovery. To my mind, there are things that I rarely hear talked about but which influence the economic security of a great deal of the population. They are as follows:

  1. Unemployment figures in the United States are highly inaccurate. Who can trust the unemployment rate when many people have remained unemployed for many more months than they get benefits? Many of these people are among the permanently under or unemployed. Others are older or sick enough to be eligible for Social Security or Social Security Disability Insurance. Believe me, despite what you may hear from certain politicos, no one really wants to be among these groups. They would much rather be fully employed making a living wage. These people are slowly becoming the new underclass.
  2. Economic growth as it is presently defined requires that the world population consume more and more which, ultimately, will lead to disastrous results. We in the United States have taught the world well. The prognosticators continue to whip a dead horse as they lament slow growth or no growth in the world’s economies. I have news for these folks. The consequences of economic growth using the present indicators insure that the we deplete the world’s resources, decrease biodiversity, pollute the planet, hasten climate change and foster world conflict.
  3. Financial security for the individual is an elusive goal unless you have a lot of resources and can expertly manage your wealth. Years ago, I remember when you could save your money in a bank and it would grow with interest. You had confidence that your savings were secure. Now, either people have little to save, are actively liquidating what they do have or are anxiously looking at their investments which can quickly lose value dependent on the latest headline. This anxiety is palpable. It contributes to decisions based upon fear. This is no way to anticipate going into the future.
  4. Our notion of success is based upon money and prestige. We have lost the meaning of what it means to have abundance. Abundance means enough, really: enough money to have food and shelter; the privilege of having the freedom to come and go and speak and write what we want to; the opportunity to work at an occupation where we feel valued and adequately compensated; the chance to develop and cultivate our relationships with friends and family; the opportunity to get the education we need to contribute in a way that we feel is meaningful.

In this blog I like to focus on solutions but in this case the solutions are very difficult to achieve. We have developed the system we have over time; it will take time and determination to undo. For a start, we have to wake up to reality. I bought into the delusion for way too long. How about you?

For further information regarding these issues and some possible solutions I recommend the following:

Tim Jackson’s TED talk, An Economic Reality Check:

“The Understandable Madness of Economic Growth” by Jonathan Rowson:

The documentary, Hooked on Growth:

New rules: Heroin and hydrocodone

Heroin Drug Trafficking Map, DEA

Heroin use is on the increase in the United States. It has been theorized that this is due to more stringent efforts to decrease the availability of oxycodone, resulting in those with a dependence on the drug turning to heroin as a cheap and plentiful replacement. The question is: What has been going on worldwide in the cultivation and distribution of heroin that could make this so?


As is true for most drugs, availability often influences use. Alcohol is the most obvious example. It is available virtually every day all day in the United States. Only 31 % of people in the United States abstain from drinking and the rate of alcohol use disorders is 7.4%. In contrast in Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country where use of alcohol is not a cultural norm and availability is limited, 95% of people abstain from alcohol and only 0.2% of the population has a current alcohol use disorder.

Where is heroin coming from and how available is it? To get a handle on this we can look at what is exported, from where, and how frequently it is used in the countries it ends up in.

Getting opiates from one place to another is a well-organized and lucrative operation. It is believed that the drug-trafficking of opiates is worth 55-65 billion dollars a year with most of the profit going to the global traffickers who facilitate transport of opiates from the production areas to the end-user.

There are three areas that supply most of the opiates for this large underground economy: Afghanistan, South-East Asia (mostly Myanmar) and Latin America (Mexico and Columbia). Most distinctly, Afghanistan is by far the largest producer, accounting for at least 80-90% of the world illicit opium production over the last few years.

The majority of heroin that enters the United States comes from Mexico and Latin America with a much smaller amount coming from Afghanistan through European and African channels. Recently, there have also been reports of a small proportion of heroin coming from Afghanistan through India to the U.S.


Heroin demand is distributed throughout the world. It has become more available than opium gradually over the last century. Opium use, however, has historically been found to be predominate in Asia and continues to have important markets in Iran, India and Pakistan.

Opioid (opium, morphine, heroin and hydrocodone) use has increased throughout the world with the main increase taking place in the United States. It is estimated that between 28.6 and 38 million people globally have used heroin and prescription pain killers in the last year.

Of all the illicit opioids (opium, morphine and heroin), most people use heroin. Heroin can be smoked, snorted or injected. When injection is used as the primary route of administration it can lead to chronic health issues through exposure to blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C. Heroin is believed to be the most potentially lethal of all illicit drugs due to variations in the purity of the drug and resumption of injection use after a period of abstinence when tolerance to the drug is at a lower threshold.

The Russian Federation and Europe account for one-half of global heroin use. The Russian Federation is estimated to have the highest national consumption. The United Kingdom, Italy, France and Germany have the highest rates of consumption in Europe. The heroin distributed in Europe and the Russian Federation is believed to come almost exclusively from Afghanistan opium.

Comparatively speaking, data suggests that heroin consumption in the United States (20 metric tons) is about a fourth of that which is consumed in Europe. Latin America consumes 5 mt and Canada 1.3 mt of heroin annually.

Back in the USA

Presently, illicit prescription opioids are much more often used than is heroin in the United States. There are concerns that any barriers to the availability of prescription opioids could lead to increases in heroin use. There is already evidence that this has been the case as stricter controls have been implemented.

Most recently, as of October 6, 2014, the FDA has rescheduled all hydrocodone combination products from schedule III to schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. This allows for much more restrictive prescribing practices which will limit availability of hydrocodone for many people. Given that the Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) operating under the auspices of National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported that heroin continues to be one of the most significant drug abuse concerns across all monitored regions of the United States, the prospect of tightening controls while there is increased heroin availability could be a very lethal combination as those with an opioid dependence turn to a cheaper and less predictable alternative.

Community Epidemiology Work Group. January 2014. Epidemiologic trends in drug abuse: Proceedings of the Community Epidemiology Work Group, Highlights and Executive Summary. National Institute of Drug Abuse. Retrieved from

Federal Register. Vol. 79, No. 163. Friday, August 22, 2014. Rules and Regulations. Drug Enforcement Administration
21 CFR Part 1308 [Docket No. DEA–389]. Retrieved from

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2010). World drug report 2010. Retrieved from

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2012). World drug report 2012. Retrieved from

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2014). World drug report 2014. Retrieved from