It’s become a depressing fact that American politics is so polarized. That’s also true about where we live and work. We rarely interact with people from the hated other party, except maybe an outcast relative at Thanksgiving.
From immigration to impeachment, guns to graft, it seems we’re divided on every topic. But maybe there is an issue that can unite us — one admittedly born of a father’s deepest grief.
One night in 2017, I received a call that every parent dreads. My only son, a college student, died after taking a Xanax pill laced with fentanyl. His life was lost to a class of painkillers called opioids.
Sadly, he’s not alone. Over the past two decades, more than 400,000 Americans have died from an opioid overdose. The epidemic kills on average 130 Americans every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This is a nationwide horror story, not just a set of cold statistics. Yet the cause of death on such scale is deeply known to most of us, including me.
I tried to translate my grief into helping others. As a television anchor and commentator, I was invited to host a series of town halls highlighting the crisis. I was often joined by Melania Trump, the first lady, Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, or James Carroll, the national drug policy director.
At these town halls I learned that a lot of parents think addiction strikes only other people’s children. They are fooling themselves. And I tell them that every chance I get.
As for children, they can be blindsided by the loss of a father or mother because of addiction, which has shattered communities across the country.
Having lost my only child and best friend, I took another step. I established the Eric Chase Foundation to warn parents and to urge doctors, lawmakers and others to combat the opioid epidemic.
Yes, today’s political climate is nasty. Yes, we wring our hands over how progressives and conservatives hate one another so much that no candidate, legal decision, movie, restaurant and bakery is free from partisan controversy.
Yet here is a unifying issue — here is a calamity that can strike any of us like a brick falling from a building. The crisis brings misery and death to all races, parties, genders, classes and religions. Here is a nonpartisan, equal-opportunity killer.
That’s why we have to battle it together. We can still argue over immigration and impeachment, but on this issue we must unify.
There is some hope. The Trump administration has addressed the crisis — and with bipartisan support, I’m happy to add. Some 57 federal programs sponsor nearly $11 billion dedicated to prevention, treatment and recovery, as well as research, criminal justice, health surveillance and supply reduction.
It’s a wonderful start, but there is so much more to do. Let’s not merely react to current suffering. Let’s punish deceitful drug marketers, set up treatment centers and clamp down on prescribing painkillers.
My view is that Americans can band together to go deeper into this crisis, right to the core issue: how we treat pain. Pain is the body’s reaction to injury, chronic problems and disease. Everyone is susceptible to pain of some kind. It’s a unifying human experience.
Let’s redouble our efforts to find pain treatments that don’t risk drug dependency and addiction. Let’s harness the nation’s research and design resources to produce remedies that end pain, not mask it.
As for my pain of loss and grief, I don’t think there ever can be relief for that. I just try to channel my emotions into something positive. I hope that our personal experiences can lead to a shared understanding — and that our divided nation can unite to end the opioid epidemic and save lives.
Eric Bolling is a financial analyst, the host of “America This Week” on Sinclair Broadcast and the president of JanOne, a company created to find alternative treatments for pain.