Leading the Rally Cry, Not Just Sounding the Alarm: To Solve the Opioid Crisis We Need Action
According to a just-published New York Times article, drug overdose death rates are not simply increasing – they are increasing at an exponential rate. This data echoes a trend that The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse and other experts have been anticipating, but the numbers haven’t been verified like this until now.
This disheartening data is released at a time when our nation has become used to seeing so many horrible stories about death and dying due to opioids like heroin, fentanyl and OxyContin. This tragedy without solutions is creating empathy fatigue. Hearing terrible news over and over again without addressing this problem will make anyone feel exhausted. We can’t keep going this way. If we continue on this path, this epidemic will become the new normal.
We cannot stop caring and accept that a death toll greater than AIDS and greater than the Vietnam War is now taking place in our country. We are losing people – people we know, individuals in our community, those who we live near and work with.
Opioid overdoses are, “the only aspect of American health that is getting significantly worse,” according to Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.). You read that right: the only one. With overdose deaths getting worse, not better, I argue what we are doing to fix the problem is not working.
But we can’t wait for the C.D.C. to officially confirm these numbers. We need to act now.
To fix this problem of epic proportions, we need to think outside the box – to come up with big ideas. We need to imagine we can end addiction. Then we need to put these ideas into action.
Let’s start with building state-of-the-art centers of excellence that provide top-notch care. Let’s give families a place to call, a hotline with updated information about good treatment programs. Let’s eliminate waiting lists for treatment. At a time when an estimated 161 people are dying each day, there is no excuse for telling people, sorry, you need to wait three weeks before we can treat you.
Our first responders, who can save lives with naloxone, need to start providing treatment on the spot. Too many hospitals simply kick people out after an overdose and say “good luck.”
We should be investing in community prevention and education, so the next generation of kids doesn’t turn to opioids, or whatever the next drug of choice is.
And while all of this action is essential, we won’t get anywhere unless we have compassion. People’s lives are at stake. Behind these overdose statistics are sons and daughters and the parents who love them. Returning to the War on Drugs is not the answer.
To win against addiction, we need everyone to step up and do something. Parents, doctors, legislators, pharmaceutical companies, schools and police, we have to move forward, together. Most importantly, we need imagination. We can do this. And we will. I imagine it.
Joseph J. Plumeri
Mr. Plumeri is Executive Chair at Center on Addiction