You may have heard some of the statistics, noticed a couple of news reports, and maybe even known someone personally who has struggled with opioids, but you may not know just how big a problem this country has right now.
In fact, one could make a reasonable argument that opioid addiction is one of the greatest health risks facing this country’s current vitality and future. If that’s the case, are we doing enough to make it go away?
The State of the American Opioid Crisis
The latest research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are roughly 2.6 million opioid addicts in the US, and the number rises by the hour. Even more alarming is the fact that 100 Americans die from opioid overdoses every single day.
“In the worst-case scenario put forth by STAT’s expert panel, that toll could spike to 250 deaths a day,” healthcare reporter Max Blau explains, “if potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil continue to spread rapidly and the waits for treatment continue to stretch weeks in hard-hit states like West Virginia and New Hampshire.”
Not only does opioid addiction have a negative impact on the country’s health, it’s having an adverse impact on the economy and damaging the finances of millions of families. Economists estimate that 1.5 million working-age people are missing from the labor force and not actively looking for work.
Roughly one out of every two men in this category is addicted to pain medication. The correlation is striking.
What’s the Solution?
Ignoring the problem doesn’t do anyone any favors.
The best way to fight it would be to tackle it head-on from a variety of angles. Here are five suggestions from experts in the field.
1. Curb Opioid Prescriptions
From 1997 to 2010, just 10 percent of patients who visited a primary care physician with lower back pain were referred to a physical therapist. Over that same period of time, the number of people given prescriptions for painkillers rose from 15 to 45 percent.
While this is admittedly just one example of how we got here, it’s indicative of a larger trend in American healthcare: over-prescription of pain medication, which frequently leads to the development of opioid addictions.
Painkillers are certainly necessary, sometimes; but getting the medical community to curb the frequency of such prescriptions could significantly reduce exposure for many Americans. Some progress is being made in this direction, but much more is needed.
2. Publicize the Consequences of Overdosing
Many people are simply oblivious to the severity of opioid overdoses and their ugly and deadly side effects. Although it’s not pleasant to talk about, more publicity on the consequences of overdosing might deter some people.
3. Let People Know About the Options
A lot of people crave help, but don’t know where to turn. So they continue to spiral out of control, and the hope of getting better slips further and further from their consciousness.
The good news is that there are plenty of drug rehab facilities to which addicts can turn for help. Within these places – where detoxing can be handled in a non-life-threatening manner – success rates are much higher than when people try to get better on their own. The key is for these opportunities to become more visible and accessible to the public.
4. Pass More Good Samaritan Laws
Are you familiar with Good Samaritan laws? These allow people suffering from drug addictions and overdoses to pursue emergency medical services without fear of being prosecuted or penalized by the legal system.
Most states have some kind of Good Samaritan law on the books, but more flexibility on this front would be highly beneficial.
5. Increase Accessibility to Naloxone
Coming off from an opioid addiction can be very dangerous. It’s not as simple as making the decision to stop and never picking the drug up again. The side effects can be catastrophic and deadly if the right steps aren’t taken.
Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a drug that has proved to be safe and effective in helping wean addicts off opioids by blocking the negative effects. When administered intravenously, it works within two minutes.
Naloxone can also be injected into a muscle or sprayed into the nose for quick use. Making this drug more readily accessible would be another step in the right direction. Steps are being taken in this direction, with naloxone being made available free of charge at schools and pharmacies and included in kits carried by EMTs and police.
Now’s the Time to Act
Every day that this country delays in seeking a solid solution to the growing opioid epidemic is another day that 100 or more people die. And though there’s no easy fix, plenty of things can be done to attack the problem at the source and provide a way out for the millions of sufferers who are currently hopeless.
Everyone must be willing to do his part.