How the US Is Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

What the federal government is doing to combat the opioid crisisIt’s arguably the worst drug crisis in American history. On average, 115 Americans are dying from opioid overdoses every day.

In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies assured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and the number of prescription opioids sold to hospitals, doctors’ offices and pharmacies practically quadrupled between 1999 and 2010.

Widespread use led to widespread misuse, which has fatal consequences. The number of opioid overdose deaths quintupled between 1999 and 2016. As we now know, opioids, including prescription opioids, are highly addictive, but they’re only part of the problem. Prescription opioids pave the way for heroin use, which is cheaper and easier to acquire.

The opioid epidemic was declared a national public health emergency in October 2017.

Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic

Opioids — including prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl — accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in 2016, more than any year on record. Forty percent of those overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid, such as methadone, oxycodone or hydrocodone.

In April 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued five priorities in the fight against the opioid epidemic:

  1. Improving access to treatment and recovery services
  2. Promoting the use of overdose-reversing drugs
  3. Strengthening our understanding of the epidemic through better public health surveillance
  4. Providing support for cutting-edge research on pain and addiction
  5. Advancing better practices for pain management

HHS is spearheading a multi-pronged approach in combating the epidemic, starting with research. The Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee, a federal advisory committee under HHS, was tasked with creating a National Pain Strategy. The comprehensive research strategy aims to identify gaps in research and provide recommendations for new research to reduce chronic pain and establish a system through which all patients receive high-quality, evidence-based treatment for pain.

The National Institutes of Health has joined with private partners to launch a research initiative into three areas: overdose reversal, addiction treatment and pain management. The HHS Healthy People 2020 initiative includes an objective for Medical Product Safety, which focuses on the overall improvement of patient treatment and the appropriate use of prescription drugs in pain management.

An Epidemic Requires Widespread Effective Treatment

Research into addiction prevention and safer alternatives for prescription opioids are essential in the long-term strategy, but what about the estimated 3.8 million Americans who already misuse opioids? Prevention is not to be ignored, but a more proactive approach that encourages people to get treatment could actually put a dent in fatal overdose rates.

Treatment that takes an evidence-based, individualized, multidisciplinary approach is critical because opioid addiction is not caused solely by drug availability. Effective treatment must address the underlying causes of substance abuse that often stem from co-occurring mental health disorders.

Recovery from addiction is possible with a combination of traditional therapeutic modalities, alternative treatments and medication. The Oaks offers highly individualized treatment plans that provide a clear path to recovery.

Written by, Guardian Recovery Network.

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