woman leaning against a brick wall in a white jacket

A note from our editor, Elizabeth MacBride:

When I report on innovation and the economy in rural places – as I have in Appalachia, Colorado and California – I often hear about something I don’t write much about. The opiod crisis. Entrepreneurs in these communities are often explicitly motivated by the idea of building opportunity to counter the despair that draws people to drugs.

After a dinner in Corbin, Kentucky, I wrote this: Down the table, someone describes driving down the road, and seeing a man, dead in the cab of a pickup truck, with a needle stuck in his arm. The brutal kicker: The man was a friend.

Last week, I heard Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of National Drug Control Policy, give his status report on the drug crisis. Here’s a bit of what I learned:

The stats
1 American dies every five minutes from an overdose
There are 1 million non-fatal overdoses a year
36 million people have substance abuse disorder
The drugs

Heroin – likely the drug that my dinner-mate’s friend was injecting — is four times more powerful than morphine. Fentanyl is 20 times more powerful.

The new wave of the crisis: pills

“Transnational drug organizations understand the pill nation we are,” he said. The average American over 65 has 20-22 prescriptions. Now, people seeking to save money on their prescriptions buy pills online. Two of five pills available without a prescription are contaminated with fentanyl, he said.

The knotted-up nexus

The pills are being sold on dark web sites, paid for in cryptocurrency. Precursors are made in China and shipped through Mexican drug cartels into the United States. We’re hearing a lot about supply chains right now: Imagine trying to untie that one, which is also complicated by geopolitics. Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan made it less likely we’ll see cooperation from the Chinese government, and the drug cartels are responsible for 30% of Mexico’s GDP. Meanwhile, the Mexican government isn’t real happy about the U.S.’s own toxic export: guns.

That makes what entrepreneurs are doing so important. They’re bringing innovations in treatment and support to market and restoring their communities, one ice cream shop, co-working space or guitar factory at a time. I thought the world of Dr. Gupta for taking on this job, but imagine if even part of the $40 billion he oversees were in the hands of experienced Main Street entrepreneurs, instead?

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.

A business journalist for 20 years, am the founder of Times of Entrepreneurship and the co-author of The New Builders.