Despite highly restrictive laws surrounding controlled substances, the opioid epidemic continues to ravage our country with little sign of slowing down. The numbers are stark and sobering. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people die in the United States after overdosing on opioids every day(1).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total "economic burden" of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.(2)
While an enormous amount of money has been used to combat the opioid epidemic, the crisis is worsening. Why? Because while our public officials have wrung their hands and demanded action be taken, there has been very little done to effectively address the root causes.
What’s the answer? There are several avenues to pursue immediately. To start, we must empower those who already have a vested interest in helping substance abusers regain their lives. That means redirecting money that would go towards arresting and incarcerating individuals into investments in our own mental health care.
Additionally, it means putting all our analytics tools to use and identifying trends that indicate an imminent relapse or overdose, before they occur. It means subsidizing in-patient and out-patient clinics. It means using this data to identify behavior that indicates drug abuse(3) and reaching a hand out to offer help, instead of drawing back a hand to strike. It means saving real lives.
This isn’t a plan of action for the future. This can be done right now. The technology exists. The money is there to pay for it. This starts in our counties, our cities, our statehouses. Call your representatives and demand action. Demand they fund transparent and effective Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs), and demand these highly effective(4) tools be implemented into the same software that doctors and pharmacists use to prescribe and dispense medicine.
This isn’t a call for radical action, it’s a call for thoughtful, lasting change. The kind of change that relieves pressure in stricken communities and, most importantly, saves lives.
All of us have read stories from across the country of communities ravaged by opioids. We have the power to stop it. Now is the time to come together and fight against a deadly antagonist. But let’s be cognizant of who the enemy is. Addiction is the enemy, not the addict. The addict could be a neighbor, a family member, a friend, an office colleague; the enemy is the addiction that grips them. Stand and fight with them, because if you don’t fight for them, who will?
1. Scholl L, Seth P, Kariisa M, Wilson N, Baldwin G. Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2013–2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;67:1419–1427. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm675152e1External
2. Florence CS, Zhou C, Luo F, Xu L. The Economic Burden of Prescription Opioid Overdose, Abuse, and Dependence in the United States, 2013. Med Care. 2016;54(10):901-906.
3. Hagedorn, H., Kenny, M., Gordon, A. J., Ackland, P. E., Noorbaloochi, S., Yu, W., & Harris, A. H. S. (2018). Advancing pharmacological treatments for opioid use disorder (ADaPT-OUD): protocol for testing a novel strategy to improve implementation of medication-assisted treatment for veterans with opioid use disorders in low-performing facilities. Addict Sci Clin Pract, 13(1), 25.
4. D'Souza, R. S. and J. S. Eldrige (2018). Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL), StatPearls Publishing