The opioid epidemic has been raging unabated in the United States for years. With greater awareness and allocation of public health dollars, some experts hoped that we had turned a corner in this epidemic. Now, new figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the opioid crisis is worse than ever. Opioid overdoses hit new high in the US based on the reports.
The New CDC Report Shows a Spike in Overdose Deaths
The CDC just released preliminary data on drug overdose deaths in 2017. The report shows that more than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses. That represents a 6.6% increase in fatal overdoses compared to 2016. Because these numbers are still preliminary, they may actually underestimate the actual drug-related death toll.
Breaking down the numbers shows changes in the pattern of drugs contributing to overdose deaths. Of the 72,000 total deaths, more than half (about 40,000) were directly due to opioid overdoses. This includes overdoses of heroin, prescription opioid pills, synthetic opioids, and methadone. Synthetic opioid overdoses such as fentanyl were responsible for 30,000 deaths.
There are two lessons to learn from these figures. First, numbers of overdose deaths due to prescription opioids fell compared to 2016. This suggests that new guidelines on prescribing practices and implementation of prescription drug monitoring programs may have limited addiction to prescription painkillers. The second lesson is that deaths due to synthetic opioids have risen sharply due to an influx of fentanyl and similar drugs. A sharp uptick in the overseas supply of these illicit drugs has filled the void left by less availability of prescription drugs. In some cases, people do not even realize that they are taking fentanyl because it is added to heroin or other drugs.
Factors Contributing to the Opioid Addiction Epidemic
The spike in overdose deaths comes as a sobering reminder of the consequences of untreated opioid addiction. Yet addiction is not the problem. It is the result of decades of public policy decisions that leave the most vulnerable Americans without options. The better question is to ask ourselves, “What causes people to turn to drugs in the first place?”
For the answer, we must look to broader social issues. Homelessness, alienation, shootings, loneliness, violence, and chronic pain have all contributed to individuals’ decisions to take opioids. Underlying each of these issues is mental health. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, grief, and schizophrenia contribute to serious psychological pain. People suffering from these conditions often turn to drugs — and opioids in particular — as a way to numb this pain and suffering. Soon, the highly addictive nature of opioids means that they are unable to stop using these substances.
Despite millions of people in the United States who suffer from mental health problems, only a small fraction receives effective treatment. Community mental health clinics are underfunded, and there are not enough mental health workers to keep up with demand. Even more concerning, few mental health professionals use evidence-based solutions to address complex psychological issues. Relying on archaic or ineffective treatments leaves patients right back where they started: with no coping resources to dull their pain.
Solutions to the Opioid Crisis
One of the things that makes the opioid crisis so sad is that each of these deaths is preventable. Decades of addiction science have informed us about the brain circuits and psychological processes underlying addiction. That means that we have the tools to combat opioid addiction. Sadly, local and federal government officials have chosen not to allocate resources to the people who need it most.
Only by prioritizing quality of life will we make a dent in the opioid crisis. Each person suffering from opioid addiction is an individual human person with unique value. Using a one-size-fits-all treatment approach or prescribing opioid maintenance drugs to everyone will not result in long-term success.
Instead, we need to practice individualized medicine. At the Waismann Method, we use an individualized approach to understand the physical, psychological, and emotional health of each of our patients. By implementing medical detox protocols in a full-service hospital environment, we treat each person with the dignity and respect he or she deserves. We provide medical opiate detoxification and rapid detox since 1998. Our rapid detox protocol cleanses the brain and body of opioid molecules while under anesthesia. This leaves the person ready to engage in life-fulfilling treatments to address the root causes of addiction.
Using the same old tactics has kept us stuck in a world when tens of thousands of Americans die each year due to something that is preventable. It is time for legislators and public health officials to take note: only by prioritizing individuals and their quality of life will we effectively address this crisis!