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Spotlight on the Opioid Crisis

September 21, 2018

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary data in 2017 which stated that overdose deaths increased by almost 10%, taking the lives of more than 70,000 Americans.  Out of all of those deaths, about 48,000 were opioid overdose deaths.  Also notable among those 48,000 deaths was that the greatest increase was related to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

Following The Opioid Epidemic

If you look at trends in the opioid epidemic a year later, the CDC reported that there was an overall decrease in overdose death rates by 4.1% from 2017 to 2018 in the United States. The CDC also reported that death related to heroin overdose decreased by 4% and prescription opioid-involved overdose death rates decreased by 13.5%

While the United States is seeing a decline in drug overdose deaths connected to some drugs, opioid misuse continues to be a public health crisis. From 2017-2018, there was a 10% increase in deaths related to synthetic opioid use. This excluded methadone but would include prescription opioids like fentanyl, which is a pain killer more potent than morphine and used to treat chronic pain.

A Shift In The Use Of Opioids

While deaths related to heroin and hydrocodone may be decreasing, deaths related to other types of opioid medications such as fentanyl are increasing. This suggests a shift in the type of opioid abuse in the United States, not necessarily a success in combating the opioid crisis overall.

Like other drug use and addiction, opioid use disorder is a disease. While people may be shifting in the opioids they are choosing, the disease itself has not gone away. Effective treatment for addiction is available, but only about one in four people with a substance use disorder receive any treatment for their addiction. Reasons for this include stigma, inability to access or afford care, or denial or refusal to stop using opioids.

All of this is exacerbated by the healthcare workforce lacking qualified staff.  They don’t have the training to implement medication assisted treatment services or identify early diagnoses of addiction, or utilize other evidence based recommendations.

The federal government is working together with key stakeholders to address this problem head-on. Grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Society of America, along with funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration went to community health centers in an attempt to expand services to substance addiction and mental health treatment. Funds were also supplied towards hiring more professionals who are trained to provide primary care services and behavioral health services.

The good news is there are indications that attempts to stunt the opioid crisis have been successful. With the use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) growing considerably as indicated by the number of Americans “starting to use heroin” dropping significantly from 2016-2017. Evidence-based treatment approaches using MAT with anti-craving drugs like naltrexone (Vivitrol), buprenorphine (Suboxone) or methadone have proven very successful when combined with group and individual therapies.

What can you do to help with the opioid epidemic?

Take care of yourself, be mindful of the medications you take or are prescribed to you, and store this medication in a secure place, getting rid of any unused medication properly.

If you are in pain, have a candid conversation with your doctor or healthcare provider about whether or not opioid prescriptions are really necessary or if there is a good alternative.

Educate yourself on the vocabulary of addiction, and the facts and myths surrounding addiction as a disease

Get and learn how to use naloxone, you can obtain naloxone (Narcan) by visiting the Ohio Harm Reduction Website or get a prescription from your primary care physician.

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