The most recent news about the opioid epidemic in the United States happened just within the last few months. President Trump took to the national stage to announce the epidemic as a national emergency.
This announcement has several implications for the national response to the opioid epidemic. It should mean more public health funding, more flexible Medicare and Medicaid requirements, and an increased commitment to patient safety.
But beyond these changes, what does it mean to make the opioid epidemic a national emergency? After this announcement, it is worth taking the time to ask what the national response to the opioid epidemic has been and will be moving forward. It is also important to address the shape of opioid addiction in this country today. The questions we address here include:
- When did opioid addiction become an epidemic in the United States?
- Why is the opioid epidemic considered a national emergency?
- What does opioid dependence look like in America?
- What are the underlying causes of the opioid epidemic?
- What is the planned national response to the opioid epidemic?
- What resources are available now for responding to opioid addiction?
This is a big topic; opioid addiction affects millions of people all across America. But if you are asking what the opioid epidemic even looks like or what the available resources are, this post may just answer your questions.
Opioid Addiction in the United States Has Become an Epidemic
Over the past few years, the government has been reporting opioid addiction numbers that are less than encouraging. Some of the most startling opioid epidemic statistics include the following:
- Six out of ten overdose deaths involve opioids.
- The number of opioid overdose deaths has quadrupled in less than twenty years.
- 91 Americans die each day from an opioid-related overdose.
- Prescription opioid sales quadrupled from 1999 to 2010; deaths from prescription opioid medication have risen at the same rate.
- 75% of heroin users report that they first started using prescription opioids before moving to the illicit drug.
Given the statistics, there is no question that drug addiction has become an epidemic in this country.
The Shape of Drug Addiction: What Opioid Dependence Looks Like in the US
Opioid addiction is an issue that affects all corners of the United States. It is not just an issue with street drugs. It is an issue that impacts individuals and families in all income brackets, geographic locations, and lifestyles.
Last year, 11 million Americans abused prescription opioids, 1 million used heroin, and over 2 million were suffering from a drug use disorder due to either heroin or prescription opioids.
The most startling thing about these numbers is that they only continue to rise. The key to stemming the flow of prescription opioids and related addictions is to raise awareness of these facts. At the same time, private rehab centers and government agencies alike must commit to researching and providing effective addiction treatment for those who need it.
“Over the past 15 years, communities across our nation have been devastated by increasing prescription and illicit opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose. Too many of our citizens are being robbed of their God-given potential in the prime of their life.”
~ Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health
Most of these statistics do not even account for the devastation caused by heroin and synthetic opioids on the streets. Most people begin using prescription opioids before moving on to more volatile and dangerous street drugs.
This is the story so far. But it does not have to be the end.
The Opioid Epidemic Has Been Declared a National Emergency
Late this year, President Trump took an important step forward in addressing the opioid epidemic in the United States. The President declared the epidemic a national emergency.
“This epidemic is a national health emergency. Nobody has seen anything like what is going on now. As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.”
~ President Trump on the national opioid epidemic in the United States
The order to the Secretary of Health and Human Services makes a few important changes in the way the healthcare system responds to opioid addiction. Some of the key shifts include:
- Expanding access to telemedicine for areas most affected by the opioid crisis.
- Cutting down on bureaucracy in dispersing grant funds in health agencies.
- Designating some federal grants to be used for addressing the opioid epidemic.
- Increasing funding for the Public Health Emergency Fund.
- Putting officials on increasing federal funding to combat the opioid epidemic in the year-end budget.
None of these steps guarantee that the opioid crisis will be curbed in the immediate future. But declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency is a crucial step forward in creating a national response to the crisis.
Underlying Causes for the National Opioid Epidemic in the United States
With an issue as large as the opioid addiction epidemic, it can be difficult to narrow the underlying causes to just one factor. But experts have identified two specific causes for the national opioid epidemic in the United States.
The first major issue is the drastic rise in opioid prescriptions in the past two decades. Despite the fact that reported pain has not risen substantially, prescription opioid sales have quadrupled. The result is an overmedicated American population that gives in to the addictive nature of many opioid medications.
According to Dr. Francis Collins, the second underlying cause for the current national opioid epidemic is a lack of adequate health care – at least on a national level. In a report to the Senate Committee, Dr. Collins stated that the issue is “a lack of health system and healthcare provider capacity to identify and engage individuals and provide them with high-quality, evidence-based opioid addiction treatment.”
These may not be the only two issues at stake for opioid addiction. But both the rise in opioid prescriptions and the lack of adequate healthcare are issues that can be addressed at a national level. In other words, they can be part of the national response to the opioid epidemic.
The vast majority of individuals struggling with a substance use disorder do not receive the professional treatment that they need to recover from their drug addiction. Drug rehab is an essential part of recovery.
The National Response to the Opioid Epidemic in Five Points
Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services outlined a five-point strategy for addressing the opioid epidemic in the United States. The five points are supposed to provide a framework for policymakers and administrators alike to work off of.
“There is a need for more rigorous research to better understand how existing programs or policies might be contributing to or mitigating the opioid epidemic.”
~ Dr. Francis Collins
The idea is to simultaneously provide immediately needed treatment and prevention while also planning for the future. Because HHS is primarily responsible for public health, these five points can be considered the national response to the opioid epidemic for the coming years.
Step One: Improving Access for Individuals Struggling With Opioid Addiction
Effective treatment for opioid addiction already exists. The key is to make it accessible to anyone and everyone who is struggling with drug addiction. The HHS is committed to preventing the social, health and economic consequences of opioid addiction. At the same time, this step involves encouraging programs for long-term recovery. This will simultaneously improve access to addiction treatment and to addiction prevention services.
Step Two: Prevent Overdose Whenever and Wherever Possible
Close to 100 Americans die every day from a drug overdose. With that in mind, one of the main priorities in a national response is to prevent opioid overdose whenever possible. In emergency situations, preventing or reversing an overdose requires specialized medication.
The federal government has committed to focusing on the distribution of overdose-reversing drugs. This will help those who are already addicted to avoid overdose. For opioids, the main overdose-reversing drug is naloxone.
Step Three: Create a Plan for a Real-Time Health Response
The reality is the opioid epidemic affects some areas of the United States more heavily than other areas. Part of the national response is to gather in-depth public health data about the opioid crisis.
This will help officials determine how and where to administer resources. More than that, the data will also allow policymakers and public health providers alike to assess the effectiveness of current opioid addiction treatment programs.
Step Four: Research New Treatment Approaches for Addiction Rehab
Research is a crucial part of effective opioid addiction treatment. Some treatment approaches have been shown to be ineffective with time, while others have withstood the test of research and of time. For example, the Twelve Steps first championed by Alcoholics Anonymous continue to help those coming out of treatment to address the long-term effects of their addiction.
At the same time, new research is showing how medication-assisted treatment can work for some individuals. The key is to continue researching which of these treatments work and which ones do not.
Step Five: Explore the Use of Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Rehab
The detoxification process is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of opioid addiction rehab. Withdrawal symptoms can become severe, which discourages many people from attempting drug rehab in the first place.
To help address this, the federal government is committed to research how to manage pain and discomfort during the drug detox process. At the same time, the national response is to explore ways to manage pain without using addictive opioid medication.
These five steps cover the national response to the opioid epidemic in the United States. If you are currently struggling with opioid addiction, you can contact us today for professional rehab help.
National Agencies That Address US Drug Addiction Today
In addition to the planned national response to the opioid epidemic, there are several government agencies that work directly with opioid addiction and treatment day to day. Each of these agencies has a different focus, but the end goal is the same: to develop and implement effective addiction treatment methods across the country.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:
With a focus on providing effective treatment for both addiction and other mental health issues, SAMHSA administers millions of dollars worth of grants to increase treatment around the United States. SAMHSA also provides useful online resources for those looking for addiction treatment.
Centers for Disease Control:
The CDC focuses primarily on addiction prevention – but it has also provided research on effective addiction treatment. Today, much of the CDC’s work focuses on preventing opioid overdose as the numbers continue to surge.
National Institutes of Health:
With a focus on research, NIH is currently focusing on identifying what makes someone more or less likely to develop an opioid addiction. The NIH is also conducting research for managing pain during opioid withdrawal and treatment.
Last month, President Trump tapped Kellyanne Conway as the point person for addressing the national opioid crisis. It remains to be seen what impact this will have on opioid addiction in the United States moving forward.
Either way, you are not without help today. If you are struggling with opioid abuse, feel free to reach out to us today to explore your drug addiction treatment options.