With the number of overdose-related deaths as a result of opioid addiction continuously increasing, it is clear that the current approach is not working. Perhaps it’s time to introduce a new approach to tackling the US opioid epidemic.
The Rising Number Of Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths In The US
The rate of overdose deaths that involved the use of opioids in the US has been on an upward trajectory since 1999, and this figure dramatically increased in the 2010s. For instance, between 2010 to 2017, overdose deaths related to opioids increased from 21,088 in 2010 all the way up to 47,600 in 2017.
This figure appeared to slow down slightly for a few years until it rose to 68,630 in 2020, according to statistics collected by NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Moreover, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that between April 2020 to April 2021, opioid overdose-related deaths increased to a figure of 78,056.
The Problems With The Current Approach
Some healthcare professionals argue that there is a key problem with the US’s current approach to treatment for opioid addiction. People are sometimes blamed and scolded for falling into the addiction cycle due to opioid misuse, rather than being seen as people who need help with a disease.
In addition, many healthcare professionals argue that opioid use disorder is a disease, and therefore, should be treated and approached in a completely different way. The system should treat people with more care and support, rather than scorn.
Heavily Regulated Prescription Medications
Elsewhere, there are several forms of prescription medication that are being given to people who are dealing with opioid addiction. Prescription drugs such as buprenorphine (known as opioid agonists) are prescribed by medical professionals for the purpose of helping to alleviate pain and other symptoms associated with opioid use disorder.
These forms of medication have been used for many years to treat opioid addiction, and have been proven to be effective in reducing cravings for the drug, as well as helping to prevent relapse.
However, with issues such as federal regulations and how policies vary from state to state, people are not always able to get access to these drugs, and as a result, this interrupts their recovery process.
For instance, methadone is a drug that is prescribed to people dealing with opioid use disorder (OUD), but this drug is heavily regulated. This regulation can cause problems in terms of whether or not medical practitioners are allowed to prescribe it, and this, of course, can have an impact on the people who need it in order to continue with their recovery.
So What Should The New Approach Be?
Changing The Perception Of What OUD Is
Changing this particular view of opioid use disorder and the societal stigma attached to it is highly important in terms of making sure that people get access to the prescription medication that they need to recover from it.
This could be achieved by the US government creating new initiatives and through the introduction of more recovery programs that seek to provide people with the help and support that they need.
Loosening Certain Regulations For Prescription Medication
It could also potentially be achieved by making some of the regulations on prescription drugs less stringent, so as to help practitioners to be able to make sure that people can be prescribed the medication that they need.
Getting Pharmacists Involved
Some healthcare professionals believe that getting more pharmacists involved with addiction treatment programs could potentially help to get people the assistance they need. There would be more accessibility to treatment for people dealing with substance use disorders, especially at a local level.
Increasing The Number Of Prescribing Clinicians
One idea that has been proposed recently in the US House of Representatives and which will now be considered by the Senate is the ‘Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022’.
The significance of this particular legislation is that it would increase the number of clinicians who are able to prescribe buprenorphine. It would do so by getting rid of the need for existing clinicians to have to apply for a waiver from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
This is the current process that clinicians have to go through. Moreover, the clinicians in question must complete training in order to do so. In the time it takes for this to take place, people could instead be receiving the medication they need. So in essence, this would potentially improve the process by removing some of the steps involved.
Getting Treatment For Opioid Use Disorder
There are always options available that can help people begin their road to recovery from opioid addiction. The best way to start is to discuss options with a healthcare professional and plan out the recovery process, step-by-step.
The treatment process might look something like this: individuals will usually begin by undergoing a medical detoxification process that seeks to help the person overcome the withdrawal symptoms that will come with abstaining from opioid use. The detox will gradually remove traces of the drug from the person’s body.
Once this treatment process has been completed, the individual tackling the opioid use disorder can then move on to taking part in therapy and counselling programs that can help them to understand how their addiction works. They can learn how to overcome it successfully, and then reclaim control of their lives once again.
Treatment for addiction can be carried out via an inpatient treatment program, an outpatient treatment program, or even a combination of both. It largely comes down to what the individual needs, and what is most beneficial for their recovery journey.
For instance, people tackling OUD might decide that it’s more beneficial for them to reside within a residential treatment centre for the entirety of their treatment process. Other people might benefit more from a short-term stay for their medical detox, after which they may decide to complete the rest of their treatment at a local medical facility.