Our country’s problem with opioids has become increasingly urgent. Every year, thousands die from opioid overdose. Drugs classified alongside heroin and fentanyl — including some prescribed painkillers — are making a resurgence, reaching record addiction levels across the nation. New England, the Midwest and Appalachia, in particular, harbor some of the highest rates of opioid addiction and overdose. However, the epidemic reaches all corners of the country.
Scientists, doctors and politicians are working around the clock to figure out the best path to a cleaner and safer future for those struggling in the clutches of opioid dependence. While there will be no easy reset, the way ahead is not entirely bleak. Several methods for improving separate levels of the epidemic paint a future that, while not optimistic, is not entirely mired in shadow.
Current Addiction Services
The main roadblock to addiction recovery corresponds with the availability of services and medication, as well as their effectiveness for the addict. To start, there are several mostly-effective medications which are used widely to treat addiction and aid in the rehabilitation process. These — primarily methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone — are at least partially successful in helping addicts avoid continued opioid use, assuming they are correctly prescribed and taken regularly. This is not always the case.
Availability of these medications lacks in some areas, and the cost of continued use can eclipse the income of many long-term addicts. Interestingly, the overall price of prescription meds plummeted in the past years, meaning the anti-opioid drugs will probably cost less. This, of course, also increases the availability and lowers the cost of prescription opioids as well. While prescribing the use of any medication can be difficult, the greater challenge is ensuring the patient is taking said medication. Inconsistency in a medical regimen can mean relapse and continued addiction.
Preventing Prescription Addiction
Unlike many addiction epidemics across the nation, there is a clear culprit for the current state of opioid addiction: prescription painkillers. Steven Ryan, a Workers’ Compensation Specialist from PA, discusses some alternative solutions to prescribing painkillers:
“While no magical solution seems to exist yet, many of my clients are forced to seek pain relief through physical therapy, chiropractic care or acupuncture. Many find success. I am sure as medical marijuana becomes more normalized many will seek relief there as well. Whatever the solution might be to the opioid epidemic, it should put injured workers first and not last.”
Without the relief of painkillers, many people must endure insurmountable pain, which may even prevent them from continuing work. This can place them in financial peril, and is a contributing factor to people turning to cheaper alternatives like street heroin. However, the use of drugs like Oxycodone are highly addictive in their own right and often lead to more hard-core drug abuse.
The use of more holistic options is the primary target for scientists and doctors studying the prevention of the start of addiction. Ryan suggests these options, including physical therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic care, as well as the possibility of legalized non-addictive drug therapies, including marijuana. Indeed, all of these possibilities are under consideration by professionals looking to change the prescription culture.
The outlook may be grim, but the national crisis facing us is by no means insurmountable. It has, however, reached a point that demands immediate attention. A return to “War on Drugs”-type policies, such as what President Trump seems to be suggesting, certainly is not the answer. While the government must invest in preventing drug addiction for future generations, those currently affected need help and should not be abandoned, as was the case in the past.
Kate Harveston is a political writer and activist. She enjoys writing about issues related to social justice and policy reform, but she also writes about a variety of other cultural topics. If you like her work, you can follow her on Twitter for updates or subscribe to her blog, Only Slightly Biased.