Deaths among young Americans caused by opiods have skyrocketed since the turn of the century. A team of Canadian researchers has found that today the drugs – whether legal or illegal – are involved in the untimely deaths of one in five young people.
Across the broader population, opioids are a contributing factor to one in 65 deaths. Among Americans aged 24-35 this rises to one in five. In 2001 just one in 20 deaths in the same age group were related to opioids. Dr Tara Gomes, a scientist in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St Michael’s, spoke to the media about her team’s research. She described opioid abuse as a “crisis that will impact the US for generations”.
She also revealed that the family of narcotics – which includes heroin and strong prescription painkillers like Vicodin and fentanyl – is involved in the loss of almost 1.7 million hours of human live each year in the US, making opioid abuse a bigger killer than pneumonia, HIV and hypertension.
America’s opioid epidemic began in the late 1990s as prescriptions soared despite many of the drugs being highly addictive and extremely powerful. Many prescription painkillers are sold on the black market and used recreationally by addicts. The problem is so profound that the crisis has now single-handedly reduced the life expectancy of an average American male by two months.
A professor of cognitive neuroscience has released a new book entitled Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain. In it Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of University College London argues that schoolchildren facing exams before the age of 18 are being failed by the system.
Blakemore, who shot to prominence with a TED talk on the subject years ago, has now said that recent research has “revolutionised what we think about this period of life.” She argues that the full spectrum of teenage stereotypes – from laziness to moodiness – are caused by massive hormonal changes in the brain.
Forcing teens to wake up early and go to school at 7 or 8am disrupts their natural sleeping patterns and conflicts with increased melatonin production, she says. This leads to a kind of “social jetlag” as their bodies switch across internal time zones and leads to the famous weekend lie in when teens routinely sleep until the early afternoon if they can get away with it.
But the research has more alarming implications. Blakemore says that forcing teenagers to take national exams while their brains are in such a haphazard state is counterproductive and even dangerous. In England teens sit their GCSEs aged 16, she notes, while in many other European countries the first big exams take place at 18. The stress on the quickly changing 16-year-old brain of sitting exams, she argues, can lead to further problems with anxiety, addiction and depression, which teenagers are already more susceptible to.
‘Bird shit’ controversy
The party conference of Alternative for Germany’s youth wing made international headlines after senior politician Alexander Gauland described the 12 years of Nazi rule as a speck of bird shit in an otherwise glorious history.
Gauland, who co-founded the AfD in 2013, was a guest speaker at the populist party’s youth wing conference held in Thuringia. Addressing the Young Alternative (JA), Gauland said: “We have a glorious history – and that lasted longer than those damn 12 years.” He went on to say that “Hitler and the Nazis are just bird shit in more than 1,000 years of successful German history”.
The remark has sparked controversy across Germany – which continues to struggle with how to deal with its recent past. Nicolai Boudaghi, vice chairman of AfD’s youth wing, said that he thought Gauland used an inappropriate metaphor but that he agreed Germany had a ‘proud’ past which should not be blackened by the Nazi era.
The youth conference was also the site of controversy in January 2017 when local party leader Bjorn Hocke said he wanted a “180-degree reversal” of Germany’s attitudes to remembering the Holocaust. He was angry about the construction of a Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Days after his comments the former history teacher woke up to find a replica of the memorial sitting outside his home in Bornhagen.