Drug overdoses killed 64,000 Americans last year. That is an increase of more than 20% than the overdose deaths in 2015. Those numbers have nearly quadrupled since 2000. Now nearly two-thirds of overdose deaths are from by opioids. Some are from prescription opioids; others are from illicit heroin or synthetics like fentanyl.
However, some are concerned that the action we have seen thus far is too little too late. The president’s 2018 budget only increases addiction treatment funding by less than 2%. That already includes the $500 million appropriated by Congress in 2016 under the 21st Century Cures Act. So needless to say, many recovery advocates worry that the resources are just not going to be enough.
If we look at the recommendations of the president’s opioid commission, and at other initiatives that have started to gain some traction across the country, we can find patterns. There are some concepts that consistently show up, and perhaps if we focus on these similarities, we can see why so many minds are thinking alike.
So here are 5 big ways America can overcome the opioid epidemic.
Break the Stigma
In order to accomplish most of the things on this list, America first has to consistently fight to break the stigma of drug use and addiction. Misunderstanding what addiction is and how it happens only undermines progress to addressing it. If America hopes to overcome the opioid crisis, we have to be more willing to see it for what it is.
Right now the issue of addiction stigma is still a big deal. While we may have come a long way from how it was decades ago, there are still a lot of people who refuse to consider addiction as an illness. A lot of people still refuse to acknowledge the various factors that contribute to addiction, such as genetic predisposition and instead insist addiction is purely by choice.
If we can see how drug use affects people from all different walks of life, and for countless different reasons, we can then treat those suffering from more compassion. Finding more effective methods of treatment means having a better idea of what really causes addiction, and what feeds it.
Support PAARI, NOT Punishment
Speaking of compassion, supporting PAARI and not punishment is a perfect example of letting go of stigma to work toward saving lives.
It is about time that all of America realizes that the old ways of the failed War on Drugs do not work. Thankfully, it seems a lot more people across the country now understand that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Harsher punishments and severe sentences have not deterred addiction, they only support stigma.
Now in America, there are nearly 300 law enforcement agencies across 31 states that have Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative programs (PAARI). These PAARI programs offer treatment for drug users who come to authorities looking for a way out. Instead of fearing the threat of arrest, people struggling with substances are encouraged to reach out to law enforcement in order to be put in contact with treatment options or recovery networks.
This revolutionary new mindset was inspired by a department in Gloucester, Massachusetts not too long ago. So far these efforts appear to cost much less and with better results than efforts focused on punishing addicts.
Create Resources for Treatment
Today addiction medicine is an urgently needed specialty, but there is not much glory in it compared to other areas of medical work. One way the federal government could help create more resources for treatment is to provide tuition incentives for medical students to enter addiction-related specialties and work in underserved communities. By encouraging this kind of work, we further shed the stigma of addiction and shift the perspective to helping care for a vulnerable community.
But don’t just end with specialists.
By supporting things like Medicaid expansion, addiction and mental health treatment can be made available to more people who may not have access to healthcare under limited coverage. More state and federal funding can also be allocated by officials to help build or strengthen addiction treatment programs provided by the state.
Enforce Mental Health Parity
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 actually requires insurers provide equal benefits for mental health and addiction treatment that they do with other medical therapies or surgery. Thus, the law means to make discrimination against addicts by insurers illegal.
However, some insurers defy this law by imposing illogical treatment limits or tedious authorization requirements. In other words, insurance companies are finding ways to cheat the system in order to avoid paying for addiction and mental health treatment.
America and our government must to better to enforce mental health parity. If we want people to get the treatment they need, we have to protect their right to treatment and assure that insurance providers won’t be able to skip out on the bill.
According to John Renner, president of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, between 50%- 70% of people with substance abuse problems also suffer from a mental health disorder such as:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
With mental health and addiction so closely related, making sure those struggling with opioids and other substances receive care for mental health disorders or other co-occurring conditions it vital to lasting recovery.
First and foremost; preserve life! This should always be a priority when facing any kind of epidemic. Regardless of the circumstances, the preservation of life should always be paramount. This is a discussion that has become crucial in the fight against opioids considering the need for life-saving medications and harm reduction tactics.
At the moment, first responders and emergency rooms do not have adequate access to Naloxone or Narcan, the opioid overdose antidote, to save lives. Both federal and state health agencies can negotiate pricing for naloxone and expand access. They can also encourage pharmacies that offer prescription-free access in some areas.
Another aspect of saving lives involves harm reduction strategies, which tend to be a little more controversial. Not everyone likes to support programs like safe injection sites or needle exchange programs. However, whether you think these programs enable addiction or not, these programs are proven to help preserve life. Between preventing the spread of infectious disease and providing a supported environment in case of overdose, these harm reduction models can prevent a lot of needless loss of life.
One indisputable precedence in the effort to overcome opioids is keeping people suffering alive long enough to get them treatment. The more people we can help survive opioid addiction, the more people have a chance of recovering.
Drug abuse and addiction is a devastating and deadly disease, and providing effective and compassionate treatment makes a lifelong difference. Part of solving the problem is changing the way we look at it and changing how we treat each other. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.
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As we have seen time and time again, the opioid epidemic all across America has not been confined to one substance. It takes the shape of prescription painkillers, illicit heroin and even the more potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl. With the gradual progression of this poisonous outbreak, we have seen the stakes get higher and higher. Prescription opioids contributed to a growing population of heroin users. Dealers lacing heroin with synthetics like fentanyl led to higher overdose rates. Then the highly dangerous, frequently lethal carfentanil was added to the mix and now just being around the drugs can almost kill you.
With the addition of fentanyl and carfentanil to the illicit drug world comes a very real and potentially lethal new threat- secondary exposure overdose.
What is Secondary Exposure?
Secondary exposure is also referred to as secondary contamination or second-hand exposure. It is a term usually used with things like asbestos poisoning or mesothelioma. Sometimes it is even used to describe the effects of radiation. It is when people come into contact with gasses or substances that can be absorbed into the body and do very real damage.
The most common comparison you could make is to second-hand smoke, which is when people smoking cigarettes expose others to the toxic gas they and the cigarette release into the air. Second-hand smoke can cause very real health problems, including some cancers. The most terrible aspect of it being that the individual who gets sick doesn’t even have to smoke themselves.
With drug use secondary exposure overdose has now become a real risk thanks to synthetic opioids. Law enforcement and other officials tell us that some of these dangerous substances must be handled with the utmost caution. The news coming out of Ohio this week is just another example of how hazardous these drugs have become.
Ohio Nurses Experience Secondary Exposure Overdose
At Affinity Medical Center, a hospital in Massilion, Ohio, three nurses helped treat an overdose patient. After cleaning the room where the individual was treated, the three nurses were overcome by secondary exposure. They got sick and shortly after lost consciousness.
Detective Shaun Dadisman states,
“They were cleaning up the room and started to feel sick. And then that left them waking up in a hospital bed,”
According to the investigators in this case, the three nurses were treated with Narcan. The opioid overdose antidote Narcan is the brand name for Naloxone, which is used to reverse the effects of opioids on the respiratory system. The local law enforcement believe the substance the nurses were exposed to was fentanyl. Thankfully, all three nurses are said to have recovered.
A union representing nurses at the hospital intends to meet with hospital officials to review protocols for environmental contamination. A spokeswoman from the hospital states that the institution does have effective policies, which isn’t out of the question.
Police Officer Needs Narcan after Secondary Exposure Overdose
Just this summer, a police officer in a very similar situation almost died from an accidental overdose due to secondary exposure. Officer Chris Green was responding to a drug call when the incident occurred. The drug he came in contact with at the time was so powerful that even though officer Green said he was wearing gloves and a mask as he searched a suspect’s car, he still ended up being severely impacted by the substance. Merely by ending up with a white substance on his shirt officer Green needed to be revived with not just one, but multiple doses of Narcan.
How Does Secondary Exposure Overdose Happen?
Detective Shaun Dadisman spoke more about the dangers of opioid overdose through secondary exposure. Dadisman states,
“It shuts down your breathing. It shuts down your system so you get to the point where you’re not breathing on your own. And you need that boost and that Narcan is what takes that away so it helps you to recover quickly,”
Fentanyl and other opioids like carfentanil present a whole new level of danger concerning secondary exposure. The drugs are so intoxicating that law enforcement and medical personnel are now forced to come up with new policies and protocols just to handle an individual who may be overdosing on these drugs to protect themselves and others. Dadisman stated,
“I was actually stuck by a needle from an individual on a heroin overdose, so I had to run through all of the testing myself,”
The opioid epidemic now doesn’t just present an elevate risk of death to those who are using these drugs. Opioid abuse now poses a very real and deadly danger to those who work to save the lives of users every day. The greatest danger some of these drugs prevent is that of the unknown. As Dadisman points out,
“I think there will be continued changes – gloves, masks. And the problem with our first responders, police officers and our nurses and stuff, is you don’t know immediately what you’re dealing with. After the fact, you may know, but it may be too late.”
So now every day these synthetic opioid drugs don’t just threaten the lives of people who consume them, whether knowingly or not, but also the people closest to them.
So what can be said about secondary exposure overdose? Well, it is safe to say that with some of the most powerful drugs that are out there simply getting some on your skin or breathing it in, even on accident, can cause life-threatening illness. While hopefully this concept does not start a panic, it is a reality that more people should probably be aware of. Whether people are leaving the drug around others, consuming the drug in public places or being revived by loved ones and first responders, the fact is the drugs are stronger and more life-threatening than ever. The fact that a dose of Narcan might not save someone on the first shot should be enough to push for more awareness and more focus on finding a way to fight back.
So, what more can be done about the possibility of secondary exposure overdose?
If you or someone you love is struggling with opioids do not hesitate to get help. The rates for overdoses and opioid-related deaths are far too high to keep gambling with your life. Protect your loved ones and your future. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
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(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)
Opioid and heroin addiction is without a doubt one of the most unrelenting public health issues we as a country are facing today. Overdose death rates continue to risk to staggering heights, while politicians, community leaders and organizations all over America are working to find a way out. One of the companies that produces the lifesaving opioid overdose antidote Narcan is talking about their efforts to develop an opioid vaccine.
This isn’t the first time there has been a conversation about possible opioid vaccines. Naltrexone, also known by the brand name Vivitrol, was initially used for combatting alcohol dependence before being utilized in attempt to combat opioid abuse.
A while back in 2015 Kim Janda, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute created a compound he believed could ultimately be used as a heroin vaccine. Since then the research team has made some impressive strides in achieving their goal. The experts from the Virginia Commonwealth University and the Scripps Research Center discovered that the vaccine, which was the first of its kind to reach this phase of preclinical testing, was effective on rhesus macaques, a species of monkeys. This vaccine generates antibodies that neutralize heroin’s psychoactive metabolite and prevents it from acting on the opioid receptors in the brain.
So will this new opioid vaccine be the real deal?
Opioid Vaccine from Walter Reed
On a FOX News segment this past Wednesday, Dr. Mark Siegel, spoke about a new compound coming from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA. Dr. Siegel said he was happy to hear it was coming from Walter Reed because of the large issue with opioid drug use among veterans. According to Siegel:
“It uses antibodies to attack heroin or Percocet, or Vicodin; anything like that that’s an opioid, literally you make antibodies. So if it’s in your bloodstream it can’t get to the brain. It doesn’t cause you to stop breathing so you don’t overdose and you don’t have the euphoric feeling.”
According to the interview with Siegel, someone would hypothetically be able to go to a doctor, get inoculated and the opioid vaccine would create antibodies to block the effects of heroin and other opioids.
Dr. Siegel did say that it may end up being a substance that has to be administered periodically. He states human trials with the opioid vaccine have apparently only just started, but animal trials thus far seem to have been very promising.
Dr. Siegel goes on to say that once the opioid vaccine has been administered, the possibility is one could potentially be prescribed another opioid maintenance drug like Suboxone in order to taper off of opioids while not being able to feel the effects of opioids.
Dr. Siegel admits that there is still a lot of testing that needs to be done before the drug can be approved by the FDA, but he believes if the opioid vaccine is successful it could change the entire epidemic.
Opiant Jumps on Opioid Vaccine
A Big Pharma company known for their opioid overdose antidote announced back in late 2016 that they had acquired exclusive development and commercialization rights to the pre-clinical heroin vaccine. CEO of Opiant Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Roger Crystal, said in a recent statement:
“Aggressively addressing heroin addiction is part of Opiant’s mission… This vaccine fits our plan to develop innovative treatments for this condition. The vaccine has promising preclinical data.”
The Opiant Pharmaceuticals aspiration is also to create a compound that blocks the effects of opioid drugs like heroin. Dr. Crystal also said that they would like to develop their own version of the Naltrexone implant as a long-term opioid blocker.
Opiant also says that if further preclinical testing of the opioid vaccine is successful, the company plans to team up with WRAIR researchers in the U.S. Military HIV Research Program to eventually combine the HIV vaccine with the potential heroin vaccine, making a huge leap in the direction of fighting back against two of the biggest issues concerning the opioid epidemic.
Would Opioid Vaccine Work?
The bigger question we keep having to ask when talking about the concept of an opioid vaccine- will it work? Not saying that the vaccine won’t be effective at blocking the brains opioid receptors, but is this an effective strategy to combatting addiction?
One question I would think to ask is will addicts who are trying to overpower the vaccine end up taking even more of the drugs until they suffer other severe health complications. Is blocking the opioid receptors a comprehensive way of protecting people from overdosing on opioids? Which opioids would still be extremely dangerous? Will this work on drugs like fentanyl or carfentanil?
Beyond that, the question also becomes- will addicts quit, or will they use something else? If many can substitute their addiction with another substance, will a opioid vaccine make other drugs more popular?
Only more time and more research will show us how effective the new opioid vaccine could be to helping end the opioid epidemic in America. Right now with statistics being as serious as they are, any avenue that has real potential to save lives should be pursued.
Then I have to ask- with many Big Pharma companies that make Narcan and other opioid antidotes jacking up their prices, will Opiant and other vaccine makers use the miracle drug to exploit the desperation of the epidemic with intense prices?
There is no miracle cure for opioid or heroin addiction yet, but it seems many have not given up hope of finding one. What we do have today is safe and effective treatment options that offer unique opportunities to change your life. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.
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One Ohio City is fed up with dealing with drug addicts who overdose over and over again.
Their solution? Simple: Three strikes and you’re out.
But is this really the right way to go about this?
Recently, Dan Picard, a councilman from Middletown, Ohio proposed a new strategy to handle the influx of overdose calls in his city. He claims the city had spent $100,000 on the lifesaving drug. His solution is to limit the number of times an addict can be revived with Narcan.
“It’s not a proposal to solve the drug problem,” Picard said this week. “My proposal is in regard to the financial survivability of our city. If we’re spending $2 million this year and $4 million next year and $6 million after that, we’re in trouble. We’re going to have to start laying off. We’re going to have to raise taxes.”
While it may seem extreme, Picard believes something must be done to reduce the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent administering the overdose antidote Naloxone.
According to the National Institute of Health, Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is a “medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose.”
How the Proposed Plan Works
The plan proposed states that anyone who overdoses twice must complete community service equivalent to the cost of administering the Narcan. If the person has been provided Narcan two overdoses before and has not completed the required community service requirement, dispatchers will not send help their way.
“If the dispatcher determines that the person whose overdosed is somebody’s that’s been part of this program for two previous overdoses and has not completed community service and has not cooperated in the program, then we wouldn’t dispatch,” Picard explains.
Middletown has seen a significant spike in overdoses. Just last year alone, there were 532 overdoses reported. It may sound extreme, but Picard insists the city cannot afford to continue responding to overdoses at the same rate.
“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to maintain our financial security, and this is just costing us too much money,” he told NBC affiliate WLWT.
This city of Middletown, Ohio spent three times as much on Narcan this year as they did all of 2016. The numbers in 2017 already surpass that of the previous year at 577 overdoses so far.
Numbers Soar Throughout Ohio
All across Ohio, communities like Cleveland, Elyria, Parma, Chardon, and others have seen people need Narcan again and again after overdosing on opioids.
As of right now, the fire department is required by law to provide Narcan in response to an overdose. The legal department is reviewing this plan proposed by Picard. In the meantime, the fire department is applying for grants and donation to increase funds for Narcan.
Sal Valdez, the Clinical Coordinator for American Medical Response in Rochester, stated to a local news station, that he responds to at least four drug overdoses every day and about 80 every month. Each time, paramedics administer Narcan, they could need multiple doses. He also notices overdoses occurring in similar areas to repeat offenders.
“Sometimes we do know these patients by name,” Valdez said. “In my experience, we do see the same patients over and over again, and we respond to the same locations.”
Way Too Extreme?
One study estimates the cost of the prescription drug opioid epidemic costs American society $78.5 billion. Regardless, many find this proposed strategy way too extreme. This could mean the difference between life and death for some, preventing them the opportunity to recover.
Daniel Raymond, the deputy director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, told the Washington Post, that he’s “disappointed” by Picard’s plan of action. He noted that the proposal was an insult to families of loved ones struggling with addiction.
“Ohio is an epicenter of the heroin epidemic … and you can empathize with the frustration, but not with this type of solution,” Raymond told The Post.
What are your thoughts on this plan? Personally, it feels like this proposal only further stigmatizes the perception of addiction. Would we treat any other illness in this manner?
We believe recovery is a better option. Addiction should receive treatment just like any disease. Please seek help if you are struggling with substance abuse. Please call toll-free today to speak to an addiction specialist. We want to help.
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