Opioids: An American Epidemic
It’s no longer breaking news that America has a drug problem. For several years now, we’ve been in the grip of an ever-worsening opioid crisis. We’ve moved, as a country, from popping painkillers to mainlining heroin.
Lighthouse Recovery Institute has reported on this epidemic many times. Almost every news outlet, every addiction and recovery website, has reported on it. Still, when Congressional leaders call a hearing, it’s time to sit up and take note.
That’s exactly what happened recently. In late April, Congress called a hearing of seven governmental agencies to address our love for all things opioid. Representatives from the DEA, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), and others stood before elected officials and made clear just how bad things have become.
They touched on Indiana’s recent outbreak of IV painkiller abuse induced HIV. Nora Volkow, the Director of NIDA, said not only is this the fastest spreading instance of HIV in US history, but it also caught everyone by surprise (Indy Star).
Dr. Debra Houry, the Director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, linked opioid abuse to how doctors prescribe these medications. She argued that something’s shifted over the last thirty or so years in how healthcare providers dispense painkillers.
During the hearings, Pennsylvania Representative Tim Murphy uttered a sentence I believe to be both true and terrifying. While dicusinng the impact drugs like Norco, Percocet, and OxyContin have had on our country, he declared, “This is our nation’s single biggest public health concern” (Indy Star).
A Handful of Possible Solutions
Despite the overwhelmingly bleak tone of these congressional hearings, hope was in no short supply. Public officials listed off numerous ways to help combat and, ultimately, to fix our country’s dependence on pain pills.
Michael Botticelli, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and a man in long-term addiction recovery, offered a three-point plan for recovery. He argued for reducing the number of opioids prescribed, reducing the number of opioid induced overdoses, and increasing access to substance abuse treatment.
Larry Bucshon, a Congressional Representative from Indiana, offered up an idea for introducing legislation improving addiction treatment. His plans involved using evidence based treatments and strategies to move away from medication assisted therapies (Suboxone and methadone maintenance).
Another representative from Indiana, Senator Joe Donnelly, is backing legislation that mirrors Botticelli’s three-point plan. Sen. Donnelly’s bill has provisions to change how medical professionals prescribe narcotic pills, prevent overdoses via the use of Narcan, and increase public awareness of the many dangers inherent to opioid medications.
The Bottom Line
The above suggestions and plans highlight one central fact – concerned policymakers are taking action to address America’s love affair with painkillers. Of course, there’s no such thing as an easy solution. All of these plans will take work and, perhaps more importantly, money to be successful.
Still, there are men and women out there fighting prescription drugs. There are men and women out there leading the charge in drastic pain pill reform.
Will this reform happen overnight? Not likely. Will it happen in the next year? Not likely. What is likely, though, is slowly but surely our country’s attitude towards prescription opioids will change. Slowly but surely things will get better.
That’s a change we can all get behind.