As more awareness about the opioid crisis has led to a push to prescribe these drugs less often and more carefully, a recent study of Blue Cross Blue Shield members has shown a decrease in prescription drug misuse nationwide that has led to a leveling off, if not dropping, of overdose deaths related to prescription opioids.
BCBS said that it measured a drop of 29 percent in the number of opioid prescriptions for its members since 2013, and also saw a smaller decline in the number diagnosed with opioid use disorder in 2017. While these numbers are encouraging, the study also showed that heroin use has increased over the same time period, suggesting that some who were unable to continue to get legal prescriptions for opioids from their doctors turned to heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, instead of stopping their use of these substances altogether.
How the Numbers Stack Up In Colorado
Colorado showed a similar trend to the rest of the country, with a lower opioid overdose death rate than the nation as a whole but with increases in both heroin-related and synthetic opioid overdose deaths pushing the total overdose death number slightly higher in 2016 than the previous year. Statistics for 2017 were not yet available to compare with the BCBS study, but the trends are similar as far as they go.
The trend toward heroin and synthetic opioid use (like fentanyl) is worrisome because the risk of overdosing on these drugs is even higher than for prescription drug misuse. Fentanyl is particularly dangerous because it can be up to 1,000 times stronger than oxycontin, making it very easy to mix the drug wrong and make it strong enough to cause an overdose.
Government officials and treatment professionals still have a long way to go in turning around the opioid crisis both in America and in the state of Colorado. New initiatives are helping more people avoid becoming addicted to opioids and get treatment when they do, but it is going to take more time and effort to stop those who use prescription opioids from turning to heroin and synthetics when their access to the prescriptions is reduced or cut off.
The use of lifesaving drugs like Narcan (naloxone) by first responders may be another factor that has helped to slow down the number of overdoses in recent years as its use has become more widespread and accepted. Following up with treatment opportunities or requirements, depending on the situation, can bolster efforts to further lower overdose death rates and can save communities money on hospitalizations and incarcerations that often result from opioid use in all its forms.
Colorado is leading the way with new legislation to train more treatment providers, encourage people to enter this lifesaving field, and provide treatment for those who cannot afford it on their own. The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is a Colorado addiction treatment provider working hard to help stop opioid misuse and overdoses from claiming even more lives in the state. Contact us today to learn about treatment options.