A Series on the Opioid Crisis – Part IV: In Search of a Solution

July 06 2018 | Blog
  • A permanent solution will require individuals, communities and governmental entities to come together. In the last article of our series, we review some of the current efforts to end the opioid crisis.

    Despite having been declared a national health emergency by President Donald Trump, efforts to curb the opioid addiction crisis so far have failed to address the problem in a meaningful way and offer a viable solution. Nevertheless, as inspired individuals team up with both governmental and non-governmental agencies, help seems to be underway and with it – hope. Hope for a real solution to the problem that has been crippling communities across the U.S. for far too long. In this final article of our series on the opioid crisis, we will review some of these efforts.

    Legislative Efforts

    At least twelve states have weighed various financial measures to curb the influx of opioid prescription drugs. The proposed measures are related mostly to taxes that could be levied on drug distributors for every shipment of drugs that enters a state. In the case of some states, the revenue from these taxes would be used to fund addiction treatment and education programs. So far, no state has enacted any laws introducing a tax on opioid painkillers but efforts to do so are underway in at least five states – Minnesota, California, Delaware, New Jersey, and Alaska. A similar proposal was introduced and passed by the Kentucky House in early March. The proposed bill, however, would have the revenue generated by these taxes fill state budget gaps in areas unrelated to the opioid crisis. Ultimately, the Kentucky Senate rejected the proposal, citing possible legal problems it could entail.

    The Importance of Awareness Campaigns

    Last year, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevins launched a public awareness campaign called “Don’t Let Them Die”. The campaign includes ongoing content on the website donletthemdie.com, and statewide ads on radio and television. The information provided covers not only the dangers of addiction but also treatment options and the critical importance of Naloxone – a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. According to the Governor’s press release on the campaign, the overarching message concerning the campaign – is to help people to “recognize the inherent value of human life” and to “and take proactive steps to help their friends, families, and communities overcome this crisis”.

    Driving this message home seems to be of critical importance since some people may not understand the dynamics of addiction and may feel that addicts are just paying the price of their poor life choices. As one article on the opioid crisis puts it: “While doctors and experts know addiction is a medical condition, much of the public views it more as a moral failure”. Overcoming the apathy that may stem from this viewpoint will help build stronger, more tightly-knit communities and ultimately – save the lives of people struggling with addiction.

    Pain Management Techniques – Beyond Opioid Painkillers

    For those living with chronic pain, opioid painkillers may seem to be the only way to live a normal, pain-free life. Some may feel that the risk of addiction is being exaggerated; for others, it’s a risk they are willing to take. Such points of view, however, are largely a product of aggressive and often dishonest marketing campaigns which drug manufacturers have been pushing for the last two decades. 

    The truth is that opioid drugs are not the only pain management solution and cutting down on them doesn’t equate to a life of pain. In fact, in a recent study, opioids were not shown to have a significant, long-term advantage over popular over-the-counter drugs, such as acetaminophen or naproxen. Part of the reason for this is that the human body quickly builds up a tolerance to opioids, requiring a person to need more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect. This likely explains why so many people who get started on opioid prescription drugs end up abusing them and eventually switching to stronger, illegally-obtained opioids that have a high risk of overdose.

    If you are struggling with chronic pain and have been using opioid prescription drugs, the following options suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may help you get started on the path to a healthier and safer pain management solution:

    • Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®)
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy – a psychological, goal-directed approach in which patients learn how to modify physical, behavioral, and emotional triggers of pain and stress
    • Exercise therapy, including physical therapy
    • Medications for depression or for seizures
    • Intravenous therapies (injections)
    • Exercise and weight loss
    • Other therapies such as acupuncture and massage

    If you feel, or have been advised, that opioid prescription drugs are a viable pain relief solution for your circumstances, ask your doctor specific questions like the ones mentioned on this website  before making your final decision.

    In 2015;

    • Almost 92 million Americans were prescribed an opioid painkiller.
    • 11.5 million people, or about 5% of the population, misused such drugs, having obtained them illicitly, without a prescription.
    • 1.9 million Americans admitted to being addicted to opioids.
    • 33 thousand people died from an opioid overdose in 2015 alone.
    • The next year, this number rose to more than 42 thousand.

    There is no official data for 2017 yet. Nevertheless, judging from the many first-hand accounts of law enforcers and first responders from all over the country like the one covered in this story by The New York Times, 2017 is likely to be another record-breaking year. 

    Whether this will be true of 2018 depends on all of us. This crisis cannot be effectively overcome by any single person, community, or agency but rather will require a concerted effort on the part of everyone. 

    We hope that this series which has covered various aspects of the opioid crisis will help to raise awareness of the problem in our community and ultimately will bring us one step closer to a community in which individuals don’t have to struggle with addiction to opioid drugs.

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