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James D. Huysman Psy.D., LCSW
James D. Huysman Psy.D., LCSW

Opioid Addiction: Is This a War We Can Win?

Comprehensive across-the-board action is required.

Since 1998, September has been recognized as National Recovery Month; America’s annual 30 days of raising awareness and educating Americans that substance use treatment and mental health services can enable those with a mental and/or substance use disorder to live a healthy and rewarding life.

The theme for Recovery Month 2017 is Join the Voices for Recovery: Strengthen Families and Communities and is intended to highlight the value of family and community support.

recovery month
Source: recovery month

Focusing on strengthening families and local services is a vital step in reclaiming our communities and the lives of those who have been enslaved by addiction. Addiction is a devastating family disease; there is no one unaffected by it.

As a nation, we are in the grips of…

An Opioid Crisis

The opioid crisis has been all over the news for several years now; WE ARE AWARE, so what are we going to do? Those who are familiar with “recovery from addiction” know that solving this problem requires ACTION.

Although both President Obama and President Trump, and a slew of other government officials, have declared war on the abuse of opioid medication, little has stemmed the tide by way of any real solution nation-wide.

The synthetic opioid, fentanyl, responsible for so many of the recent overdoses and deaths continues to enter the US from China by way of Mexico.

The prevalence and sheer volume of prescriptions written for highly addictive opioids in the US, while not as widespread, is still a factor. Big Pharma continues to make a killing (no pun intended) in the distribution of painkillers such as oxycontin, Demerol, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and Percocet for toothaches to post-surgical pain management. Even in the ranks of medical professionals, the problem persists. Addiction treatment professionals have found that when prescription drugs are not available, addicts will opt for street drugs like heroin.

I am not denouncing or saying that there is no value in this category of drugs; I am saying that we should be more knowledgeable about the circumstances of those to whom we prescribe these dangerous narcotics. I believe we have a duty to protect people from addiction at all costs. Consideration of patients who are prone to addictive behavior or who care for those with similar vulnerability should be schooled on the risks of this class of medication and know that it is a temporary, not a long-term solution. Discretion must prevail on a case-by-case basis.

What more can the medical profession do to mitigate the number of "Dr. Feel Goods" among us? When the use of an opioid is necessary, a plan to manage the patient's pain with the medication should be established at the outset as part of the healing process.

More in-depth information about clients can be gathered to determine when and what to prescribe. We need to know if these drugs might be accessible to children or other household members who may be prone to "experiment" or already have an addiction problem. It is more important now than ever before for families to know what medications are being taken by their loved ones and what potential problems may arise. Make sure that patients and caregivers know that there is the need for keeping these drugs stored safely. An alternative, non-addictive medication should always be considered before prescribing an opioid.

Those who are already in recovery from addiction to alcohol, prescription or street drugs should have these medications monitored closely. Many will do this of their own accord. On the other hand, whether in recovery or not, there are those who will become drug-seeking, requesting more pills in higher doses. Not everyone who takes opioids will become addicted to them. Many people can use them as directed, even recreationally, and stop without consequence.

The Bigger Picture

Thankfully, some states have been proactive and progress is being made.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, “Six states — Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia — have already declared emergencies because of the opioid crisis. These declarations have helped expand access to naloxone, a medication that can revive people who have overdosed, according to the Network for Public Health Law. They have also helped states get federal grants for treatment services and improved reporting of overdoses.

The 21st Century Cures Act, which Congress approved last year, is already sending states $1 billion over two years for opioid addiction treatment and prevention, but experts say it is far short of what is needed. Ohio alone spent nearly $1 billion last year on addressing the opioid epidemic.”

The Overdose Warning System (OWN), a new first responder reporting system, is an application software for a mobile device or desktop, that will show in real-time where overdoses are occurring. The app is designed to drill down to state, city, county, and even zip code to pinpoint where the crisis lies. The implications for law enforcement and local treatment and medical services in having access to such a weapon should not be ignored if we are serious about getting out of this problem and into the solution.

Recommendations from the President’s Commission

In outlining the recommendations from the White House’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crises, reported that an “emergency declaration would enable the Federal Government to quickly free up funds to respond to the epidemic. It also allows Trump to say he's fulfilling a promise to combat opioid misuse that he made as a presidential candidate. The president’s announcement comes just as new federal data shows drug overdose deaths are on the rise, despite federal and state efforts to curb the crisis. … The opioid commission also recommended loosening decade-old Medicaid restrictions to increase access to inpatient substance abuse treatment and helping states strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs intended to weed out doctor shopping and improper prescribing. It's unclear if Trump plans to accept those recommendations. The president's rhetoric on the opioid epidemic has largely focused on a law-and-order approach. He has not addressed increased access to treatment programs that health experts and some public officials, including those on his commission, say are necessary to get the drug epidemic under control.”

We can only hope that these recommendations will come to fruition. Make no mistake; we are at a crossroads in this fight. The battle lines are clear. It’s Recovery Month, and it’s time to take a stand.

About the Author
James D. Huysman Psy.D., LCSW

James D. Huysman, Psy.D., LCSW, is an advocate of integrating behavioral health training into mainstream medicine. He is a certified compassion fatigue therapist who speaks at conferences and with national media.

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