ASAM Editor’s Comments: Epidemic, Endemic, Pandemic – Words Matter

ASAM WEEKLY (03/16) – Scattered throughout each week’s articles, and again this week, are frequent references to drug use disorders as “epidemic.” There are limited circumstances in which that label is truly justifiable. Because the use of “epidemic” as a noun implies a rapidly-spreading condition, affecting many people, but burning itself out in time, it does not warrant the widespread application that it receives. Arguably, its use has been co-opted for dramatic effect, understandable whenever tragedy is being confronted. But the difficulty with doing so repeatedly is that the impact wears off. Another, not entirely academic concern is that it incorrectly characterizes a prevailing condition – one that is endemic – as posing an imminent and dire threat. 

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