Obama’s Response to a Rising Number of Overdoses
A record number of people are dying from heroin and prescription opioid overdoses. That news, however sad, is nothing new. Since 2007, prescription pills have accounted for an unmanageably high number of deaths – 27,000 to be exact.
It looks like President Obama is finally aiming to lower that number. He just rolled out the federal budget for 2016 and it contains a number of drug treatment related initiatives.
These include, among others, prescription drug monitoring programs, growing the number of federally funded rehabs, increasing access to Narcan, implementing early intervention support systems, and increasing the use of Opioid Replacement Therapies (sometimes referred to as Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT).
All told, Obama has earmarked an almost 5% increase in federal drug program spending from 2015’s budget. This amounts to a total of $27.6 billion. That’s a decent chunk of change!
With this infusion of money into the government’s drug prevention, control, and treatment strategy, America may see real change. With the attitude of the federal government increasingly shifting from “addiction is a moral issue,” to “addiction is a disease,” we may see real change. With more and more individual states implementing their own drug policy updates, we may see real change.
Overall, it looks like Washington is poised to finally offer an effective and lasting solution to the opioid epidemic that’s ravaged America for the last decade.
As mentioned above, President Obama is attempting to change how our country deals with drug addiction through some innovative programs. These include: prescription drug monitoring programs, early intervention, Narcan, increasing federally funded rehabs, and increasing accesses to medication-assisted therapies.
How exactly will these programs be implemented, though? How does Obama plan to turn over $27 billion into lasting and meaningful change?
Well, to improve the country’s prescription drug monitoring programs, some of that money will be used to increase the size of regulatory agencies that monitor prescription drug dispensing. Funds will also be allocated to increase the reach of agencies that collect data on prescription drug dispensing.
To implement early intervention programs, the federal government will allocate funding, as well as partner with SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), to offer a five-step, community driven process called Strategic Prevention Framework.
Finally, the government will seek to decrease the overall prescribing of opioid medications. After all, fewer painkillers being prescribed means fewer will be diverted for illicit use.
This is a vital step, especially when you consider that, in 2011, there were 131 million prescriptions written for Vicodin alone. When you combine that number with other painkiller prescription numbers, it becomes clear why so many people are overdosing. But, what’s the alternative?
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Opioid Pain Management Alternatives
Part of the government’s budget is centered around monitoring the prescription rates of opioid painkillers, but what about reducing the number altogether. That’s a whole other beast.
The executive director of the American Academy of Pain Management, Bob Twillman, acknowledged Obama’s changes to federal drug policy. He also stated that more needs to be done. He’s gone on record as saying,
“I think what happens is when people go to the doctor now and they have pain, the first response for most prescribers and many doctors is okay, let me write you a prescription…there are a lot of other things we can do besides write prescriptions that will help people with their pain — and that’s especially true for people who have chronic pain” (Forbes).
These alternatives include physical therapy and acupuncture, among others.
If the government can successfully integrate programs that monitor and decrease painkiller prescription, well, then we’ll see a large scale change in the number of individuals who die as a result of narcotic medication.