opioid epidemic

The Opioid Epidemic: Saying “NO” and Administering Naloxone is not Enough

The use of prescription drugs is one of the most common pain management techniques in America. But they often come with a cost – popular painkillers such as oxycodone, codeine and morphine are highly addictive and are part of the opioid family, which also includes heroin, a Schedule 1 narcotic.

On Oct. 26, 2017, President Trump made a speech and essentially waged war on the national opioid epidemic. In his speech addressing the crisis, Trump promised to distribute funds in the form of grants to organizations and programs that support addiction treatment and prevention.

But will it be enough to curb the growing opioid crisis? Let’s take a look at the staggering numbers.

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The Numbers Behind the Opioid Crisis

In recent years, opioid and heroin use has skyrocketed, and few Americans can deny that the numbers are problematic: In 2016, an estimated 12 million people used heroin or abused prescription opioids, and more than 64,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose. Of those 64 thousand people, the majority died following an overdose of prescription opioids rather than illegal narcotics, at a ratio of about 6:1, according to World Health Organization estimates.

The sobering statistics puts overdose at the top of the list of unintentional death rates, with more people dying from overdose annually than motor vehicle accident and gun homicides combined. Death is not the only consequence of opioid addiction, however, and those additional negative consequences are more difficult to measure: Broken families, babies who are born addicted to narcotics and high incarceration rates are just a few of the potential results of opioid addiction.

Can Naloxone Solve the U.S. Opioid Crisis?

An overdose of opiates typically occurs when the drugs are taken in combination with alcohol or another sedative, often resulting in respiratory distress. The three primary symptoms of what medical professionals refer to as the “opioid overdose triad” are respiratory depression, pin-point pupils and unconsciousness.

For many years, few options were available that could save the lives of those who overdosed. But recently, a viable overdose inhibitor has emerged on the market, one that proponents believe is saving lives. NARCAN®, also called Naloxone, essentially reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, especially from heroin and morphine.

Naloxone is available without a prescription in more than 35 states, including California, and it’s easy for laypeople to administer. The medication is non-addictive, works within seconds and can be administered via a 2 mg nasal spray or a 0.4 mg injection.

While naloxone does indeed save lives, however, it’s inherently flawed and should not be considered a permanent resolution to the opioid crisis. The drug has little to no impact on the rate of addiction, or on annual overdose numbers. In fact, without addiction treatment or rehabilitation, most opioid addicts return to active use following an overdose.

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opioid epidemic

Just Say No: A Lackluster “Solution”

In 1982, then-First Lady Nancy Reagan launched the “Just Say No” educational campaign, which remains active to this day. The abstinence-centered program has many proponents, but statistics show that it does not reduce addiction rates and may actually do more harm than good.

The simplistic nature of the Just Say “No” campaign is terribly problematic. While saying “no” to drugs is a noble idea, it has little practical basis in reality. Young people are impressionable, and many lack the interpersonal skills needed to say no to their peers. Many will experiment with drugs, and some of those young people will grow into a lifestyle that’s centered in active addiction.

Other individuals become addicted to opioids following a major surgery or injury when they learn to rely on prescription pills to reduce pain. All of these individuals are left behind when institutions and health care facilities rely on abstinence-only methods of drug-based education.

In fact, statistics show that the Reagan administration’s drug “crackdown” resulted in high rates of incarceration and did nothing to reduce the number of addicts in the U.S. In addition, the campaign raised questions about opioid pain medications and whether they should be prescribed at all.

Extended Treatment May Reduce Addiction Rates

While it remains a noble idea, just saying “no” to drugs and alcohol isn’t enough. Neither is an over-reliance on naloxone. Instead, extended treatment in accredited facilities like Ocean Hills Recovery should be more highly regarded. Extended treatment takes a whole-body approach to addiction, confronting both an addict’s physical reliance on drugs or alcohol as well as the mental aspect, leading many former addicts to a drug-free life.