By Reginald Hughes
(U.S.) The prescription opioid and heroin addiction problem is taking a toll on America, and as the drug problem continues, the government and health care agencies must also continue to come up with more impactful ways to combat the issue.
The CDC has classified the increased addiction to prescription opioids and heroin as an epidemic, and overdoses have become responsible for more deaths in America than car accidents.
The current opioid phenomenon has strong similarities to the widespread opium addiction that swept America during the late 1800’s, when doctors began over-prescribing morphine, which led to an opiate addiction problem that became widespread.
Following this opium surge of the 1800’s, the medical community educated unknowing doctors of the addiction dangers and prevented the continuation of the problem by keeping the community in check.
However, the current opioid problem is proving to be more difficult to solve than the drug problem of the 1800’s. The potency of opioids used today and the increased size of the populace affected, both make the current epidemic more complex to treat.
During the Obama administration, actions were taken to help educate health care providers to prevent the over-prescribing of opioids, and funding was provided to combat the opioid crisis.
For example, President Obama’s FY 2017 budget put $1.5 billion towards the treatment and prevention of opioid addiction to be used on things such as expanding access to treatment and the anti-overdose drug naloxone.
In addition, The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has a requirement for all health insurance to include substance abuse services.
Looking to the current administration, President Trump has commented on the opioid issue, saying he would “stop the inflow of opioids into the US.”, and tweeting, “heroin overdoses are taking over our children and others in the MIDWEST. Coming in from our southern border. We need strong border & WALL!” [sic].
Trump has also said his administration would be spending money to “get that habit broken”, though Trump has yet to offer specifics on how his administration plans to deal with the opioid epidemic.
Trump’s administration has made it clear that it intends to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and there is concern that the Trump administration’s actions to repeal Obamacare will undo the progress that has been made to combat the opioid epidemic.
Looking to the future, efforts to enhance treatment for heroin and prescription drug abusers will likely improve the opioid situation in time. For example, the Oregon Health Authority has begun to add addiction services to its primary care organizations, a method that will highly increase treatment and abuse prevention if it becomes common practice.
There is also the possibility of needle exchange programs becoming a tool to help control the rising number of heroin overdoses. These programs provide clean equipment and a safe, monitored, environment for users to use their drugs. Many countries outside of the U.S use these programs, and they are considered beneficial in many ways.
The environment that needle exchange programs provide prevents the spread of disease, brings users into the health system, and helps to build trust. These programs also protect users from overdoses, and there have been no overdose deaths at any needle exchange site anywhere in the world.
While he was governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence allowed needle exchanges to combat an outbreak of H.I.V. Pence was quoted as saying, “I do not support needle exchange as antidrug policy, but this is a public health emergency”.
Prevention is also one of the most important parts of controlling the problem, and lowering the number of new addicts is the only way to begin slowing the pace of the epidemic.
Keeping doctors from over-prescribing and monitoring prescriptions are both important changes that are being implemented to prevent abuse.
Medical marijuana is also proving to be a safer alternative to prescription opiates for pain relief, and as political tension towards medical marijuana reduces, perhaps an added benefit will be its increased use in place of opioids.
People have become more aware of the opioid epidemic, and as the topic has gained more attention, the situation looks as though it may change for the better. Hopefully, with time and the hard work of many Americans, the hold that opioids have on the country can be broken.