This nation’s opioid epidemic is a preventable tragedy. To understand why I say that, take a look at the graph above. During a single ten year period, 1999-2010, the volume of addictive opioid painkillers sold in the US skyrocketed by 400%. 400%! If you’ve ever worked for a business, think about how difficult it would be to increase your sales by 400%. And yet, that is exactly what happened. Has our pain quadrupled? It’s unlikely, and I’ve seen no evidence supporting such a theory. While pain pills do have important medical uses, most would agree that they’ve become grossly over-prescribed and overused. Climbing alongside the increased drug sales, you see the consequences-increased overdose fatalities and treatment admissions for persons addicted. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Could you have saturation of addictive and easily available drugs, and have any other outcome? We can’t undo the mistakes of the past, or bring back the people lost. But we can take serious action to right some of the wrongs. Forget gawking at addicted celebrities, incarcerating users, and especially, above all else, forget judging bereaved parents. This is a much broader problem.
What can we do? The following steps come from a very useful state-by-report by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health. Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic. Some key recommendations:
1. Educate the public to understand the risks of prescription drug use to avoid misuse in the first place
2. Increase understanding about safe storage of medication and proper disposal of unused medications, such as through “take back” programs;
3. Ensure responsible prescribing practices, including increasing education of healthcare providers and prescribers to better understand how medications can be misused and to identify patients in need of treatment;
4. Make rescue medications more widely available by increasing access for at-risk individuals to naloxone and provide immunity for individuals and others seeking help; and
5. Expand access to and availability of effective treatment options as a key component of any strategy to combat prescription drug abuse
I’m a board member at Regional Anti-Drug Education and Outreach (RADEO) in Southeast Michigan, and we will be holding our next seminar on June 6th in Washtenaw County. A very strong speaker line up will cover steps 1, 2,3, and more. We also have a great partner for the cause in the seminar’s co-sponsor, the Hon. Christopher Easthope, Judge at 15th District Court in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Please act to get involved where you live. Together, we will bring our communities out on the other side.