The Opioid Epidemic: What Can You Do?

Recent overdose rates and high-profile deaths have left many Americans feeling pretty bleak. Efforts to curb abuse of legal opiates like oxycodone and hydrocodone have simply resulted in newer, more dangerous forms of opioids. Truly, we are a nation addicted to opiates- more than 650,000 prescriptions are received daily. Furthermore, 55 billion dollars is spent each year on health and social costs directly linked to the abuse of prescription opiates (more goes to costs surrounding the use of illicit opiates). With death from overdose now the number one killer of Americans under 50, it’s time to see what each one of us can do. There are many ways you can influence your community or those around you, or simply have more knowledge about the current climate of the opioid crisis.

The Dissemination of Naloxone

One huge way that we could curb overdose deaths would be to make it easier to access naloxone for all individuals. Naloxone works instantly in the case of an overdose, immediately blocking the respiration suppression that is a result of opiates. Naloxone is currently available, but there are definite barriers to access in terms of where it can be bought as well as the price. However, it’s up to individuals to champion the use of Naloxone, an antidote to the very bleak and very real reality of overdose.

Stopping Pill Mills

Another way that societally, people can help curb the opiate crisis is by cracking down on providers who are over-prescribing narcotics. There is a lot of money to be made in selling narcotics, especially those of a ridiculously addictive nature like opiates. These “pill mills” as they are called disproportionately affect Americans living in rural, or otherwise disadvantaged areas. State databases and other rulings have begun to curb the rampant prescription of opioids but unfortunately, so many illicit alternatives already exist.

Screening for Addiction

Screening for drug and alcohol abuse, or what is referred to as substance use disorder, would be an extremely helpful practice in combating addiction. Many proponents argue that adult patients should be screened in primary care settings, so as to intervene before things are exacerbated. This intervention has begun to be adapted, and is now covered by (some) insurers as well as Medicaid and Medicare.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment also represents a burgeoning field of growth, and possible hope for the opioid crisis. Certain drugs help to curb cravings, which are the crux of an opiate addiction. These drugs include buprenorphine (Suboxone), methadone, naltrexone (including the 28-day injectable Vivitrol) and naloxone.

Probably the most helpful thing that could be done to help those victimized by the opiate crisis is to increase availability and access to proper treatment. It is currently estimated that 80 to 90 percent of individuals who need substance abuse treatment programs are not getting it.

However, not all drug treatment centers were created the same. The right treatment setting will focus on the individual- including underlying mental health concerns of traumas, teach about the disease model of addiction, and generally offer hope and compassion for addicts and their families.