The opioid crisis has been devastating to the health of Americans, and clinicians, emergency workers, and governments alike have sought ways to turn it around. According to the most recent AMA Opioid Task Force Progress Report, clinicians are battling the opioid crisis on many different fronts. What strategies are they using, and are they able to make progress against this serious substance misuse issue?
Strategies for Sobriety
What can clinicians do to manage the opioid crisis? In the past few years, the crisis seems to be moving so quickly that it is out of peoples’ control. However, there are a number of strategies that are being used to bring opioid addiction to a halt:
- Reducing the number of opioid prescriptions: Since the opioid crisis began in part due to the prescription of opioid painkillers, reducing the number of opioid prescriptions could help reduce the crisis in the future. It could even help those who are struggling with substance misuse right now, because it could make it harder to access prescription opioids.
- Providing emergency treatment: While naloxone does not treat the underlying issues of addiction or even the addiction itself, it does reverse opioid overdoses. Access to naloxone gives people the opportunity to continue working on their progress toward sobriety or could give those people who overdose a second chance to consider becoming sober. When this access to emergency treatment is combined with community education, it can make a large impact on peoples’ ability to address an overdose at the critical moment.
- Addressing the addiction by increasing access to medication-assisted treatment: It can be mentally daunting to move away from opioid use. MAT helps by relieving the effects of withdrawal and reducing the psychological need to use a substance. Treatments for opioid misuse include drugs like buprenorphine, methadone, and extended-release naltrexone.
Progress in the Fight Against Opioid Addiction
Opioid addiction has occurred in part due to a national trend of prescribing opioid pain medication. Unfortunately, these pain medications that are used for severe and sometimes for chronic pain are very addictive. A person who has surgery can find themselves seeking more and more of these opioids because they create feelings of pleasure.
However, the addiction soon becomes less pleasurable as people turn to street drugs such as heroin to feed their growing opioid addiction. These drugs are likely to be blended with other drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil, two powerful but deadly opioids. Since people who use these drugs are not sure how much fentanyl and carfentanil are in the mixture, it is hard to figure out how much to use, and they suffer overdoses.
Are the solutions mentioned above working? Since people have become addicted to opioids in part due to prescription medication, a drop in this medication could have a positive impact on the addiction trends overall. According to Patient Engagement, “opioid prescriptions fell by 9 percent between 2016 and 2017.” Providers are also registering in programs such as prescription drug monitoring programs to flag people who should not be taking opioids and to make sure that people are not seeking prescriptions from multiple locations to get more opioid prescription medication. However, providers also caution that some people truly need opioids to manage their pain from health problems such as metastatic cancer, so any outright prohibition of opioids would reduce the quality of life of these patients.
More providers are also prescribing naloxone. Naloxone is not a cure for opioid addiction, but it does help prevent overdose deaths by reversing the effects of an opioid overdose. Between 2016 and 2017, the rate of naloxone prescriptions more than doubled, moving from 3,500 prescriptions to 8,000 prescriptions for the drug.
Providers are increasing access to drugs that facilitate withdrawal from heroin and other opioids. According to Patient Engagement, “the number of providers certified to offer buprenorphine treatments increased by 42 percent, or 15,000 providers, in the past 12 months.”
Moving Forward: Areas That Need Improvement
The opioid crisis is complex, and the response has not been perfect. While the tide is slowly shifting to make it harder for people to access opioids in the first place and easier for people to reduce their dependence on opioids once they are suffering from substance use disorder, there are still barriers to providing the best possible treatment. These include:
- Bureaucratic roadblocks to medically assisted treatment can make it harder for patients to move into recovery. These include the need for prior authorization.
- Deaths related to overdoses continue to rise. This is due in part to the contamination of street drugs such as heroin. It is important to continue to address this problem at multiple levels, including the provision of naloxone at the community level.
Colorado Physicians: Strategies to Combat Opioid Addiction
In the years 2010-2011, Colorado ranked second in the USA for off-prescription use of prescription opioids among young people ages 12 to 24. By 2015, about one person died of an overdose in the state every 36 hours. How has the state addressed this problem of addiction?
- In 2016, the Colorado Hospital Association created an Opioid Safety Steering Committee to work toward stopping the opioid epidemic. With the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and the Colorado Emergency Nurses Association (Colorado ENA), they created the Colorado Opioid Safety Collaborative to improve conditions in emergency departments.
- According to the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, there is a state-wide campaign to raise awareness about opioid misuse. States the consortium: “The campaign has three key messages: Safe Use, Safe Storage, and Safe Disposal of prescription medications.” This campaign could reduce access to opioids and reduce the number of those who are struggling with substance misuse.
Seeking Treatment in Colorado
If you live in Colorado, what are your options for Colorado addiction treatment? The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is one example of a recovery center that can help you move into a life beyond substance misuse and help you manage your struggle with opioid addiction. We offer:
- Medical assistance, so that you do not have as much fear about the initial process of stopping opioids.
- Intensive inpatient programs that incorporate traditional and alternative therapies.
- Outpatient programs that allow you to sleep at home or even work part-time while you attend.
- Aftercare programs that facilitate easier entry back into your work and home life, because you are supported in your efforts to avoid opioids.
At The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, we are here to help you grow the future that you want to see. We offer medical assistance in getting off opioids, and we also offer multiple therapies to help you commit to a life of sobriety. If you are curious about our inpatient, outpatient, and aftercare programs, contact us today.