Take a closer look at the health issues facing Americans in the 21st century as they relate to social issues. These issues include the treatment and prevention of drug abuse, including both street drugs like cocaine and marijuana and prescription pain relievers like OxyContin and Vicodin. The skyrocketing abuse of prescription pain pills—a class of drug known as opioids—in the 2010s were linked to the overprescription of these drugs. Like with diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental, and biological factors. People who engage in drug use put themselves at risk for contracting or transmitting viral infections such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), or hepatitis. Even as the healthcare system attempted to curb these prescriptions, the medicinal benefits of marijuana were touted as a reason to legalize it, with several successful efforts led at the state level.
Another issue of growing importance is the treatment and prevention of obesity, with nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population classified as obese in 2015–2016. Obesity occurs when a person’s body mass index is 30 or greater. The main symptom is excessive body fat, which increases the risk of serious health problems. Obesity-related health conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer are among some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death, with the pharmaceutical cost of obesity estimated at $147 billion in 2008.
Mental illness is a health concern that is closely connected to the social problems of suicide and violence, including multiple mass shootings that shone a spotlight on the need for increased mental health services. In 2018, the World Economic Forum found that depression was the leading cause of disability, associated with several medical conditions. Many pregnant women and young adults may experience depression and anxiety, although many don’t get the help they need. The end of the 20th century also saw an alarming increase in the rates of autism in children, affecting one in nine children as of 2019.
Related to the issue of suicide is euthanasia, also known as assisted suicide or physician-assisted suicide. This controversial (and largely illegal) practice involves the painless killing of a terminally ill patient through lethal doses of medication at his or her request. Both sides cite ethics in making their case for or against euthanasia.