Prevention and Rehabilitation Solution to the 21st-Century’s Worst Public Health Crisis
With the onset of the New Year and the new decade ahead, I decided to do some light reading of health-related reports for the last twenty years, as well as projections for the coming decade. I happened across a report from Brookings. Its opening statement was pretty grim.
“Over 1 million Americans died from suicide or drug or alcohol-related deaths from 2006-15.”
“Over 1 million Americans died from suicide or drug or alcohol-related deaths from 2006-15. The U.S. boasts more opioids per capita than any other country in the world. Policy for opioid and related addictions, at least at the federal level, has focused on saving addicts from overdose death by extending the supply of ’opioid antagonist’ medications to first responders and relevant medical personnel. What has been missing is an approach that addresses the epidemic’s root causes by dealing with both demand and supply.”
As harsh as that analysis is, I could not agree more with its conclusion. The U.S. has spent the better part of two decades trying to address the opiate cries with supply-side strategies and medications.
It clearly hasn’t worked.
The Opioid Epidemic in Numbers
There is a veritable wealth of information on the opiate crisis, a now 20+ year public health emergency, one, unlike anything the nation has ever seen before. To begin a simple examination of the facts and statistics, let’s look first to what the National Institute on Drug Abuse has to say about the crisis: “Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids. The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse goes on to talk about how, in the late-1990s, huge pharmaceutical companies began increasing the production, distribution, and sale of opiate painkillers. Such pharma companies reassured both the medical community and the American people that patients would not become addicted to the drugs.
Back in the late-1900s and early-2000s, the danger of prescription opiates was not fully known. Shortly after receiving encouragement from pharma companies, medical doctors began prescribing the drugs in increasing quantitates. Almost immediately, widespread diversion and misuse of the medications took off, quickly followed by skyrocketing, fatal overdose statistics.
Coincidentally, two decades later, those same pharma companies are now being sued in hundreds of different court cases as thousands of plaintiffs from all across the country demand justice and retribution. Quoting Working Partners: “U.S. District Judge Dan Polster is in charge of a massive court case consisting of over 600 lawsuits lodged by various government entities. When combined, the suits are demanding billions of dollars to confront the U.S. opioid epidemic. The plaintiffs allege that, for over two decades, drug makers have widely advertised their opioid products as virtually non-addictive, even when prescribed for a patient’s long-term pain management.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “From 1999 to 2017, more than 700,000 people have died from a drug overdose. Around 68% of the more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid. In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl) was six times higher than in 1999.”
Today, the opioid epidemic has leveled out into a mix of prescription opiates, heroin, and illicit, synthetic opioids. Now, as we begin a brand new decade, we have to figure out how we are going to repair the damage of the last two decades and create a better future for ourselves and the following generations.
Prevention and Rehabilitation are the Answer
Holding pharma companies accountable is a wise thing to do. If we can change the current status quo, (the status quo being pharma companies making drugs that cause addiction and overdose deaths), we’ll have made a massive leap to a better, safer, healthier society.
But holding pharma companies accountable for their hand in the opiate crisis is just one part of the much more significant challenge of pulling America out of the addiction epidemic. To make the 2020s count and to make real progress in saving America from addiction, we all have to take part in both prevention and rehabilitation.
It’s often been said that the best way to solve a problem is to prevent that problem from ever happening in the first place. For many problems, we do not have the benefit of preventive solutions as potential options. With the drug problem, we do have this option.
When people know about drugs and when they see the truth about drugs, they are far less likely to experiment with such substances. When people are made aware of the damage that drugs cause, they do not take part in drug experimentation. When everyone in a household is educated about the dangers of drug use, that household is far less likely to experience the trauma of drug use.
Prevention means taking steps to literally prevent a drug problem from ever cropping up in one’s community. It can entail anything from supporting local law enforcement to holding awareness campaigns and events, to educating kids on the truth about drugs. Prevention means creating a future where fewer people will use drugs to begin with.
Rehabilitation refers to the efforts taken to help those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. And this doesn’t mean locking addicts up in jail cells for “rehabilitation and reform.” It means helping addicts get better via long term, residential drug treatment centers. It means helping those who are hooked on opiates and other drugs actually overcome their habits and find life anew.
The best and safest way by far to overcome a drug problem is with the help of a residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center, preferably one that offers long term programs.
Creating a Better Future
A new decade and a new year are upon us. What are we going to do that will make the 2020s memorable? When we look back on this decade, what will we think of? What will stand out?
For me, I’d like to look back on the 2020s and see it as the decade where we really pulled ourselves out of the addiction crisis. I want to look back on the 2020s and see it as the decade where we overcame the addiction epidemic and got the health of our people into an even better state than it was before the addiction crisis came about.
Who’s with me?
Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP