Stories surrounding opioid addiction tend to be overwhelmingly negative and dire, often leaving people with little hope. This week – which President Obama proclaimed as Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week – I’d like to shift the conversation and talk about how one state has taken extraordinary measures in responding to the opioid epidemic.
Adolescents and young adults misuse prescription opioids more than any other age group, and teen substance use significantly increases the risk of developing addiction. They are also at highest risk for overdose. These are startling statistics, but there are three important steps parents can take to prevent their teens from misusing prescription drugs, reduce the chances of accidental overdose and avoid the devastation of opioid addiction.
As Americans continue to struggle with opioid addiction, many blame the pharmaceutical industry for driving the problem through the extensive marketing of pain medicine and promoting prescribing practices that many regard as reckless. A recent Los Angeles Times investigation focused on the pharmaceutical company Purdue and their opioid pain medication OxyContin. They found that Purdue pushed OxyContin on patients and physicians in ways many would find unethical, if not illegal. Additionally, the company helped convince Americans that opioid medications weren’t just for those in agony from cancer or major surgery – but that drugs like OxyContin could be used for much more manageable forms of short-term as well as chronic pain.
Injection drug use presents a special challenge for public health – those who inject drugs become severely addicted, often avoid the health care system, and are at high risk for multiple negative health outcomes, including infection, overdose and death. Some solutions fall under the umbrella of harm reduction, a set of strategies targeted at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug addiction. One harm-reduction approach being considered is called a supervised injection facility (SIF) – a legally sanctioned setting where individuals can inject previously obtained drugs (such as heroin and other opioids) under medical supervision.
Prescription opioid and heroin addiction, overdose and deaths have been serious problems for many years. As the crisis more recently expanded to suburban and urban communities, it has generated significant media and political attention. Documentaries are being developed to raise awareness of the epidemic and its devastating impact on families in a way that is relatable to viewers. A recent example is the HBO documentary “Heroin: Cape Cod, USA,” which offers a graphic portrayal of heroin addiction by following the lives of eight young people addicted to the drug.
The opioid epidemic in the U.S. continues to worsen, with overdose death rates climbing in most states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data reveal that 28,648 deaths were linked to prescription opioids and heroin in 2014. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 4.3 million adolescents and adults reported non-medical use of prescription opioids.
As many people across the U.S. continue to struggle with opioid addiction, several lifesaving medicines remain out of reach because of their cost or availability. In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Vivitrol – a once-per-month injection that blocks the effects of opioids and reduces cravings. Vivitrol is an injectable form of the medication naltrexone, which is taken orally several times per week, and has been used to treat opioid addiction for over 20 years.
Nearly three decades after the federal government first banned funding for needle exchange programs, Congress has decided to change course. In December 2015, a congressional budget deal was approved and signed by President Obama to fund most core aspects of needle exchange programs.
As the opioid epidemic continues to devastate the nation, with overdose deaths hitting a record level in 2014, drug abuse and addiction are finally a political priority. President Obama proposed $1.1 billion in new funding and identified substance abuse as an opportunity for bipartisan agreement.
There is a long standing federal policy in the U.S. limiting access to life-saving treatments for people addicted to opioids. One of the most effective treatments for opioid addiction – buprenorphine – can only be prescribed by doctors who have completed a special training and qualify for a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) waiver. Doctors who get the waiver can then treat up to 30 patients in their first year and up to 100 patients in subsequent years.
Newsletter Additional Information
Thank you for subscribing
This information will be used to better customize your experience and help inform future tools and features on our website.