Enough Already! Our Nation's Response to the Opioid Epidemic

February 3, 2016   Haven Lindsey


The statistics are stark and endless.

39%: The percent increase of national heroin-related deaths from 2012 to 2013.
800%: The percent increase in requests for addiction treatment the state of Vermont saw in a recent 12-month period.
41%: The percent increase in overdose deaths in Ohio from 2012-2013.
94%: The percentage of respondents in a 2014 survey who said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were far more expensive and harder to obtain. 75%: That percentage reported 12 months prior, in 2013.

The numbers equate to death and are continuing to grow.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States and opioid addiction is the driving force. In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult a bottle of pills. Little wonder the majority of Americans have been directly affected by addiction or know someone who has.

We're in the middle of an opioid epidemic.

Epidemics demand attention. They are devastating, life-altering and culture-changing. Hardly a person alive in the 80's was not aware of the deaths from AIDS. Today, opioid addiction is extolling a similar price and it has garnered attention.

In response to the overwhelming destruction of this epidemic, The Obama Administration just announced a $1 Billion initiative to combat this plight. As Michael Botticelli, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, described the plan a clear message was sent. And received.

$920 million to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders. $50 million to approximately 700 addiction treatment providers to expand medication-assisted treatment. $30 million to evaluate the effectiveness.

Numbers don't lie, they are factual. People are dying, our nation is fighting back. The initiative sends a strong message. Funding is being directed toward medication-assisted treatments and approaches. We have yet to learn if funding for this initiative includes abstinence-based treatment but it looks doubtful.

What does this mean?

It means that the previously unexposed, underbelly of the stigmatized world of addiction has surfaced. And as predicted, the government (and health insurance companies) have noticed. These entities do not invest their resources in plans or treatment regimens that are not outcomes-based. And it stands to reason. 1 billion dollars to fight addiction the government has sent a message and the treatment modalities who demonstrate their success rates have received attention. This is not to infer that abstinence-based models of addiction treatment are not effective; most Americans know someone who has had success with abstinence. The concern is that this model of treatment has not historically measured and demonstrated its rates of success and right now the abstinence-based model is vulnerable.

The data backing medication-assisted treatment is stronger than the data supporting abstinence-based treatment. This is the proverbial wake-up call in the loudest decree. The field of addiction treatment is in transition, it just received 1 billion dollars and none of that appears to be allotted toward abstinence-based treatment.

Embracing the demonstration of science-backed, outcomes data is critical for everyone involved including the funders, the providers, the payers, the patients and ultimately the nation.

An epidemic is sweeping through America and every day it kills more of us. Enough already.

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