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Opioid’s National Emergency: A Call To Action

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In a world where fast food is an acceptable meal and 140 characters is the preferred method to receive and digest news, it is safe to say that our culture expects instant gratification with the least amount of work.

While this attitude works for many aspects of life, it does not support addiction recovery. As a nation, we now face a national emergency regarding our opioid epidemic. It is critical that we address not only the sourcing of the drugs (as the government proposes), but also the resources necessary to help patients who have been drawn into this addiction. These resources include providing drug tests, and requiring patients to attend counseling and meeting with professional medical staff and counselors on a regular basis. The combination of these prescribed services in addition to medication to treat opioid addiction (i.e. buprenorphine and methadone) is the only proven method to treat opioid addiction. To do anything short of combining both the services aspect and the opioid addiction drugs only accelerates the opioid problem that our country is now experiencing.

How did we get into this situation? In the early 2000s, the American Medical Association’s recommendation for treating pain was the use of opioids. This began what became a massive increase in prescriptions for opioids. Patients’ increasing demand for opioids for personal use and to re-sell those drugs created the Opioid Overdose Epidemic as millions of opioids poured on to American streets. As one would expect, the winners were pharmaceutical companies, physicians, pain clinics, hospital systems and drug dealers. The losers were patients, American families, law enforcement, U.S. taxpayers and every person with medical insurance.

Realizing that there is no easy solution or quick fix for addressing addiction does not mean that there is no hope. While treating tens of thousands of patients, Center for Behavioral Health has found that treating opioid addiction with a combination of drugs and tailored support services results in a number of positive outcomes for its patients, including:

80% of Patients Quit Use
After six months to two years of treatment, 80% of patients report no illicit opiate or heroin use. This is achieved when opiate addiction treatment incorporates methadone or buprenorphine combined with prescribed support services.

Patients become more employable
Within six months to two years in treatment, the number of patients reporting adequate employment increases by 15 percent, from 50% to 65%.

Patients avoid legal woes
Upon entering treatment, 21% of patients report involvement in the criminal justice system. Within six months to two years in treatment, patient involvement with the criminal justice system drops to 12% and for patients in treatment for 2-5 years, involvement with the criminal justice system drops to 6%.

The declaration by the government to declare opioid addiction as a national emergency is a first step. It will funnel more government money to support the problem, drive awareness, and help thousands of people that suffer today by helping to provide the necessary resources to receive effective care. With this increase in funds and focus, it will be critical that the industry does not simply address the symptoms but rather the problem as a whole. Today’s patient that is actively recovering from opiate addiction has been using opiates for 5-15 years. Today, there is no single drug that can cure addiction without the proven services that we have discussed. It is unrealistic to believe that patients can be illicit drug free and no longer on medication in six to twelve months. Recovery is a life-long process. Once we accept that as a culture, we will be able to make a real difference on a broad scale.

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