Maine’s attorney general, Janet Mills, recently and wisely pointed out in the Press Herald that with all the public policy focus on raising enough money to combat this problem, we need to remember this is a “cultural” problem, too. OK, mentioning culture means this is a people problem, right? But what does saying this is a people problem tell us about how to combat this particular problem at this particular time?

This particular problem is an example of unintended results beginning years ago, when doctors were given broad authority to write prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications and painkillers without the tight oversight required of other psychotropic medications. In other words, mental health professionals, who would closely monitor the psychological and behavioral impacts of these medications, were no longer part of the equation.

Why this is happening at his particular time is more difficult to explain. Why are so many young people who are just starting out in life, as well as so many middle-aged people who have fallen on hard times, choosing to risk death on prescription drugs?

What these two groups have in common is a cultural form of hopelessness – a widespread sense that everyone is doing it and the alternative (working toward one’s personal goals) is just too difficult to pursue. Maybe it’s not so hard to believe about the middle-aged, who have taken some lumps, but it’s shocking to think of that about the young.

As a community, we need to wake up to the possibility that our younger generation is struggling to find a reason to accept the hardships of living in the future when a culturally acceptable form of just being in the moment is both plentiful and easy.

Noah Dorius