opioid epidemic and alcohol consumption

The Politics of the Opioid Epidemic and Alcohol Consumption

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By the end of today 115 people – nearly five an hour – will die from an overdose of opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The opioid crisis is so serious, former congressman Patrick Kennedy described it as “cataclysmic” during a 2018 interview with The Washington Post. But what many people are not taking into account when considering the opioid epidemic and alcohol consumption is seeing how prevalent alcohol use disorder still is – yet it doesn’t seem to get as much attention.

The Rise of the Opioid Epidemic

The epidemic started in the 1990s when pharmaceutical companies introduced a new type of synthetic and semi-synthetic pain management medications such as Tylenol 3 with codeine, hydrocodone and oxycodone. Collectively the drugs are known as opioids due to their addictive properties or physiological effects. 

At that time, drug manufacturers assured prescribing doctors that the medications were non-addictive. It turns out they were wrong. Yet doctors continue to prescribe opioids as the go-to meds for pain management.

Patients who rely on opioids frequently build up a tolerance for the drugs and then require increasingly strong painkillers to achieve the same pain relief.

On the flip side, some patients who no longer need pain relief have discovered an unintended benefit of having opioid prescriptions at their disposal. There’s a big market of people who are willing to pay anywhere between $5 to $80 per pill for a quick high. Combine powerful pain medication that gives users a sense of euphoria with an opportunity to sell pills for a tidy profit and the result is an epidemic.

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How the Government is Lending a Hand to the Opioid Epidemic

Cities across the country have dealt with the crisis for years. In 2018, the department of Health and Human Services created a number of initiatives geared to end the overwhelming crisis. It formed the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within HHS, to promote prevention, treatment and recovery support services initiatives.  Specifically, SAMHSA has also been tasked with providing communities with services such as health centers, substance abuse rehab programs, support groups and even inpatient care.

Federal and state governments, and local communities have a lot to lose if the opioid crisis isn’t curtailed. The blow to the overall economy is nearly $80 billion annually, a figure that is likely to grow unless the epidemic is addressed.

Why Isn’t Alcohol Consumption Considered Cataclysmic?

There’s an even more concerning epidemic that plagues the US, but there isn’t the same public outcry to fix the problem.

By the end of today, 241 people – ten an hour – will die from alcohol consumption or related incidents according to the CDC.

The negative effect of alcohol use disorder on the US economy is estimated to be more than a quarter trillion dollars annually. With double the number of people who abuse alcohol and an economic impact nearly four times that of the opioids, it would stand to reason that there would be some well-established, publicly financed alcohol abuse programs in place. That would be an incorrect assumption.

So What Gives? Why Isn’t Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery a Priority?

SAMHSA says there is simply too much demand for alcohol recovery assistance so the agency has reverted to “serving as a hub” for treatment referral services. In other words, SAMHSA provides information on programs and services around the US but doesn’t actually get involved with rehabilitation. There aren’t many publicly funded support services for those who abuse alcohol so if you need help, it’s likely that you’re on your own to find the options.

The federal government makes a halfhearted attempt to attack the problem. It threatens to withhold highway appropriations from states that don’t follow the nationally mandated guidelines such as the minimum drinking age and blood alcohol levels. For their part, state governments impose sin taxes on alcohol sales with an eye on curbing consumption through higher prices.

Neither option has proven to be very effective.

Under the Affordable Care Act, rehab services are technically covered but the service provider of choice may not accept ACA coverage. However, if you have low income or are over the age of 65 you may qualify for rehab assistance through Medicare or Medicaid. The catch is that not many rehab facility accepts Medicare or Medicaid. Veterans may be able to tap into VA funds to pay for treatment but the process can be cumbersome.

If you fall outside of these groups it’s likely that the financial responsibility for rehab will be on you.

How To Handle a Family Member Struggling with Addiction – of Any Substance

It’s important to realize that someone who has an addiction, of any kind, affects everyone in their sphere – family as well as friends. When a family member approaches the individual, the first line of defense is typically to show anger or unwittingly cause an argument about the dangers of abusing drugs or alcohol. This approach is unlikely to yield positive results and may drive a wedge between the abuser and the accuser.

Frequently family members or friends will deny that there’s a problem. That doesn’t yield good results either as the behavior either continues or gets worse.

To help someone who has an addiction here are some tips:

  1. Do your homework. Learn about the disease and its triggers so when you have the intervention discussion you’re armed with facts.
  2. Understand the signs and symptoms of addiction, which will give you solid examples of the addiction.
  3. Have a plan. Research the various options (inpatient, outpatient, detox vs. medication, length of stay in a rehab center, 12-step plan).
  4. If possible, have the patient be part of the decision-making process. If they’re amiable, visit the facilities together, have the patient meet the staff and get buy-in.
  5. Keep your cool. The last thing a patient needs is a parent, family member or friend going off. By its nature interventions can be combustible conversations. Try to remain calm.
  6. Stay involved. There are no overnight success stories. Helping someone through an addiction crisis is going to have bumps along the way. Stay involved and stay patient.

How to Help Someone Struggling with Opioid or Alcohol Addiction

If you or a loved suffers from alcohol addiction, chances are it’s on your shoulders to find your own sobriety program. The process of choosing a rehab can be daunting. The chances are good that if you have an alcohol addiction problem you or your family will need to find your own sobriety program. The options range from inpatient or outpatient rehab to 12-step programs and counseling. The process of picking the right program can be daunting.

Here are five tips to help identify the right program for you:

  1. Consult with your doctor, mental health professional, addiction specialist or social worker to determine which treatment program is best for you. Explore all options including residential treatment, outpatient or a 12-step program. A person who has trouble functioning with day-to-day living will likely be encouraged to enter an inpatient treatment facility. Not every person will require detoxification, but finding an inpatient program that offers detox as well is helpful. For inpatient programs a person should expect to stay for at least 30-days. Others who have not been successful with month-long programs may be encouraged to stay for up to 90-days.
  2. Good inpatient treatment programs usually combine therapy and counseling, support groups and education. If the patient suffers from depression or anxiety, it’s best to look for a facility that offers mental health and psychiatric services in addition to drug and alcohol counseling.
  3. Some patients are addicted to both alcohol and drugs. Many treatment centers treat both at the same time. When weighing the various options ask if the rehab facility uses detox methods or abstinence to rid the body of drugs and alcohol and make sure the patient understands the pluses and minuses of both.
  4. Before choosing a rehab center find out how long it’s been in business. If the facility has been around a while the chances are good that it has successfully treated many patients. Five years in business is a good indication that a facility has had success.
  5. Many people believe that you get what you pay for but when it comes to rehab centers price doesn’t equal success. When visiting a high end rehab center it’s easy to be lulled into thinking that the plushy surroundings will provide the perfect atmosphere for success. Resist the urge to focus on the glitz and focus on the programs and the staff. Ask how they will work with your loved one, how they make patients accountable for their actions and how the patient will be supervised. It’s important to feel comfortable with your choice, so while it may seem like a good idea to contact your insurance company for a recommendation, some policies have out of network benefits that will cover some of the stay, and ultimately comfort and feeling good about the process should take precedence.

For more information on how to begin your addiction recovery journey, or for a free consultation, contact Ocean Hills Recovery today. 


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