The current movie – The Man Who Invented Christmas – centers on the events that inspired Charles Dickens to write his famous book A Christmas Carol. In doing some additional research on this topic, I was struck by several interesting parallels between the characters and message of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and today’s Opioid crisis.
At the time his book was written in 1843, inequality and poverty in the Britain’s Victorian Era were rampant as the country was shifting from an agricultural economy to an industrial one. This transition led to thousands moving from the country to the city in search of work. Factory owners were exploiting children as a cheap source of labor. Hunger was widespread, and many lives were being lost. Efforts to address this inequality did not seem to be a high priority with the general public or with those in authority.
These circumstances led Dickens to write his “Carol” as a strong condemnation of greed and disinterest – centered on the transformation of the book’s main character – Ebenezer Scrooge. Dickens’ story of Scrooge’s journey has provided an optimistic message of personal change of heart that has proved popular across generations of readers. 1
Similar to the poverty epidemic that devastated families and lives in Victorian England, the opioid epidemic is devastating families and lives in cities across America. Just like modern times, there were differing views on how to solve the problem. In regards to poverty, the prevalent solution was to punish or imprison individuals for not working instead of providing services to help meet basic needs while they could find new jobs or learn new skills. Today, a similar discussion is heard, in regard to solving the Opioid crisis (e.g. arrest more addicts or provide more treatment services). Unfortunately, just as in Dickens’ day, there are some individuals who regard the rising number of Opioid overdose deaths as a positive development (e.g. “decrease the surplus population”).
Like any good story, there are villains and heroes. In Dicken’s day, the villains were greedy factory owners paying minimal wages and promoting poor working conditions that contributed to poverty and early deaths. In today’s opioid crisis, some greedy opioid pharmaceutical companies and unscrupulous opioid treatment providers are seen as villains that have played a role in contributing to increased Opioid abuse and overdose deaths.
Through Ebenezer Scrooge, Dickens introduced the idea that employers should take more responsibility for the well-being of their employees. Dickens’s message was that an employer’s workers are not of value only to the extent to which they contribute to a product for the cheapest possible labor cost. Instead, they are of value as “fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other “journeys.” Employers owe their employees “as human beings” – no better, but no worse, than themselves. 2
The impact of the publication of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843 was immediate and widespread. The increase in new charities and changes in employer attitudes and policies started a major movement to address poverty and inequality in Victorian England.
Just as Dickens’ used A Christmas Carol to provide a spark for addressing poverty in 1843, the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2016 report Facing Addiction in America is seen as a similar landmark publication for addressing America’s Opioid epidemic.
In the Surgeon General’s report, the message is clear – addiction is a health issue, not the result of any individual’s moral shortcomings, and must be addressed through a public health approach integrated with the community at large. This means shifting the focus away from punitive policies toward a comprehensive strategy that combines health and social services. 3
Just like Dickens’ Carol, the Facing Addiction in America report offers a new perspective and motivation for America’s employers and communities to act collaboratively to address the tragic consequences of Opioid use disorders.
At our company, eTransX, we have teamed up with other companies to help find solutions to address today’s Opioid crisis that is devastating families across our country.
This holiday season, we ask you to join us in the spirit of A Christmas Carol to explore new ways to work with your community to help address this devastating crisis. Every day we further hesitate or delay addressing the growing opioid crisis is another step forward to catastrophic loss of life and economic costs to a community. As in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, we need businessmen and community leaders to step forward to help solve the opioid epidemic.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
Richard Taylor is the director of Business Development for eTransX (www.etransx.com) an information technology company based in Brentwood TN that has been leveraging information technology to address complex challenges for over 18 years. Most recently, eTransX has teamed up with other organizations – Insightformation (www.insightformation.com), Restoration One (www.restorationone.org), and Analysts (http://analysts.acsicorp.com) to offer technology and services to help communities address the Opioid crisis.
1 Why and How Charles Dickens Wrote the Classic Story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Robert McNamara, Dec 4, 2017, https://www.thoughtco.com/a-christmas-carol-by-charles-dickens-1773662
2 The Real Reason Charles Dickens Wrote A Christmas Carol, John Broich, TIME, Dec 13, 2016 http://time.com/4597964/history-charles-dickens-christmas-carol/
3 Shifting Our National Approach to Addiction, Health Policy Hub, Nov 23, 2016, https://www.communitycatalyst.org/blog/shifting-our-national-approach-to-addiction#.WaQv_z6GOpo