(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
The United States’ war on drugs has taken a dramatic turn for the worse as Americans continue to become addicted to opioids at alarming rates. Despite billions of dollars poured into drug enforcement and policy efforts every year, the abuse of legal opioids such as prescription painkillers, and illegal ones such as heroin, has reached a crisis point.
The Federal Government has been called on to act, but state level administrators have expressed grave concerns about the situation. The number of deaths by overdose has skyrocketed, and alarming statistics have made the issue a major flashpoint in American politics. Almost every governor in the country signed an Opioid Compact last year in an effort to find ways to combat the problem at the state level while strongly urging federal action.
Recently, the Governor of Maryland declared a state of emergency over the crisis and pledged millions more to help combat the growing epidemic. Similarly, the Trump administration has made it a crucial point of their first 100 days, and has taken steps to begin dealing with the problem. While the real substance of their actions remains to be seen, the signs point toward an aggressive stance to help rein in what has become a public health crisis.
A Spiraling Public Health Epidemic
Opioid addiction rates in the US are spiraling out of control. Even with the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Federal Government’s best efforts, more Americans are becoming hooked on opioids that range from legal prescription drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin to harder, illegal substances such as heroin. Per estimates from the Center for Disease Control, 91 people die every day from opioid overdose,
with a shocking tally of over 500,000 deaths between 2000 and 2015.
With such a health crisis at hand, American politicians at all levels of government have turned their attentions to the matter. In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan declared
a state of emergency to tackle the issue, pledging more than $50 million of state funds over the next five years to create an effective plan of attack. More than just money, however, Governor Hogan’s call to action will let local emergency services move around bureaucratic red tape that can slow down effective treatment and enforcement initiatives.
The decision could also be a boon for medication-based treatments for heroin and opioid addiction. Drugs such uas Vivitrol, which can neutralize the effects of heroin addiction for up to 30 days, and Narcan, which has been proven to be effective at combating the short-term effects of opioids, can become more readily accessible. By eliminating many of the barriers, and providing funding to help lower or even eliminate the costs to access treatments, local agencies can distribute these life-saving medicines to more people who truly need them.
Even at the Federal level, the problem has not gone unnoticed. The Obama Administration created a fund to help combat the growing addiction epidemic, and Donald Trump’s new budget blueprint, which drastically cuts almost every federal program, includes an increase to the earmarked sum of $500 million to be used in efforts to combat the growing problem.
The issue has become a national concern, with regions in the Midwest, New England, and Rural Appalachia being the most affected.
Attacking the Real Issues
Regardless of the strategy, State and Federal authorities choose to tackle the rising epidemic, one thing remains clear – a new paradigm must emerge to successfully deal with the problem. Law-enforcement oriented approaches have shown to be ineffective at best, and have cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Experts generally agree that policymakers should shift their focus to help deal with the victims of opioid abuse, and not necessarily the suppliers.
This includes easing the costs of access to life-saving medications such as the aforementioned Narcan and Vivitrol, which can help combat the effects of heroin addiction and use on a chemical level, as well as improving treatment alternatives.
The Surgeon General released a report in October of 2016 which states that 20 million Americans suffer from a form of addiction. That's the same number of Americans with diabetes and 1.5 times of those with all forms of cancer combined. Only 10 percent of those suffering with addiction are getting treatment. We would never accept that only 10 percent of those with diabetes or cancer were able to receive treatment
Politicians should consider providing funding and assistance to rehabilitation centers to find better ways of assisting people with addiction problems. US Addiction
, one such network that operates several rehabilitation centers, offers alternative and personalized treatments designed to help victims of addiction permanently kick their habits. Experts in the field such as Per Wickstrom, the founder of Best Drug Rehabilitation, are steadfast in their belief that providing better access to proven treatment methods and, in some cases paired with medication, assisted treatment is the best way forward towards solving this mounting crisis.
Elected officials have been busy raising the alarm bells over the growing epidemic, but now it is time to turn words into actions. With the eyes of the nation on them, State and Federal leaders must now prove their convictions by translating their proclamations and statements into concrete policies that can help every community struggling with constant overdoses and every family facing addiction. The time has come to turn back the tide of this rapidly unfolding public health emergency. Journalvoice contributed to this article.