The statistics behind the opioid epidemic are harrowing. A lot of people are dying at an alarming rate from opioids. But, why are people now suddenly paying attention to this when drug addiction has taken so many lives for decades? When you look at the statistics of overdose going back to 1999 you see a dramatic increase in overdose deaths --which became exponentially more severe in the past decade. In 2016 alone, there were over 20,000 overdose deaths just from synthetic opioids.
The opioid crisis isn’t the only addiction epidemic our country is facing, it’s simply the most recent epidemic in the latest strain of the addiction crisis. It's very important to note that alcohol addiction still impacts this nation at a far greater rate than any of the other drugs combined. Yet, our major news outlets and addiction researchorganizations choose to focus more attention on the fact that we're in this opioid crisis.
That’s not to diminish the severity of the opioid crisis, it is a serious detriment on society costing far too many lives. Saving and improving the lives of thosewho suffer from the chronic disease of addiction should always be at the forefront of any conversation like this. However, to understand the full impacts of declaring the opioid crisis a national emergency it is important to look at all of the factors surrounding this issue.
Who created the opioid crisis?
That’s the million dollar question that plugs up the conversational airways around the opioid crisis. It is known that the opioid crisis was created by a mixture of elements, both legal and illegal. The over-prescribing of pain medication at the physician level led to an unusually large number of addiction cases than might have not appeared otherwise. This creates an especially dangerous situation in the case of those that develop an addiction to prescription opioid medication, but can no longer access that prescription. The chemical and mental dependencies this addiction creates forces those who are afflicted to go to the oftentimes cheaper and more accessible version: heroin.
What will happen when the opioid crisis is declared a national emergency?
Short answer: better policy and more funding.
At the time of writing this, President Trump has only announced that the opioid crisis is an emergency without making an official declaration of emergency. Declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency will spur policy changes. Policy changes can have a direct impact on prescribing opioid medications. First and foremost, strict policies can put regulations and limits on the amount of opioids that can be prescribed. This eliminates a lot of the bad
players in the healthcare community who have contributed to the crisis historically. So called “pain clinics”, where people go when their primary care provider has exhausted their methods of pain relief for a patient,that dole out prescription painkillers become a thing of the past.
Federal policy also opens up resources in the form of funding to do research on opioid replacement therapies or medication assisted treatments. That money can also be allocated to developing technologies that electronically monitor prescriptions. There's been some resistance from the medical community to implement electronic monitoring. The “pain clinics” mentioned earlier benefit from a lack of transparency and oversight, and they make their profits strictly from prescriptions.
For every bad player, there’s a good guy fighting the good fight. For every physician overprescribing opioids, there’s a researcher developing a drug that can be administered to an overdose patient and save their life. The bottom line is that not everyone in the healthcare industry, and certainly not all physicians, are complicit in creating the opioid crisis.
Policy and money that support efforts to curtail the opioid epidemic do currently exist. Several states have policies in place bringing mental health practitioners, physicians, and treatment providers together to solve an individual state’s opioid epidemic needs. Declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency can jump start and boost those state efforts in amazing ways.
The hope is that people suffering from opioid and other addictions gain more access to treatment and extended recovery by declaring it a national emergency.
How will this destigmatize addiction?
A declaration of a national emergency would bring the addiction epidemic to the forefront of the national dialogue. That kind of attention can destigmatize and de-myth what addiction is, and give a platform to help people understand that addiction is a chronic brain disease and not some moral failing. Once more people realize addiction is a chronic, fatal disease that people don’t choose to have, then we can begin efforts to combat the crisis without blaming the addict for their addiction.