With our nation in the midst of a fiercely growing drug epidemic, what measures are being taken and where will they inevitably take us?
This is not the first time the country has faced a drug abuse epidemic, though never one of quite this magnitude.
Morphine had become a widespread subject of addiction in the late 19th century, only to be stemmed and pushed back by further advancements in the medical community that put in place stricter prescription laws, as well as focusing public awareness on the drug’s harmful effects.
However, the statistics paint a staggering and otherwise insurmountable picture; on average, over 115 Americans are dying from abuse of opioid pain relievers (OPRs) .
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been over 350,000 mortalities Caused by an opioid overdose between 1999 and 2016.
The overdose rates in 2016 were recorded as being five times as large as they had been in 1999.
This is to say nothing of the number of opioids flooding into Louisiana.
The CDC reported in 2015 that there were 103.2 opioid prescriptions filled for every 100 persons in Louisiana.
This placed the state above the national average of 70 prescriptions per 100 persons and ranked Louisiana fifth in the national total of prescriptions filled.
Outside of prescriptions, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that at least 346 deaths in 2016 were the result of an opioid overdose, with 146 of those deaths reported as a case of heroin overdose.
What is being done at local levels to combat the opioid issue?
Police officers and medical professionals are trained to be aware of opioid abuse and they have seen, first hand, how abusing them can ruin lives.
“As someone within the medical industry, I can’t stress enough how important it is for there to be a general public awareness about opioids and their effects,” Bayne Jones Army Community Hospital pharmacist Jo Blankenship said. “There’s a responsibility on the part of providers to inform their patients about the effects of OPs and consider the length of time they keep someone on it.
“On the other side of that, patient’s shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions or talk with their provider to see if OPRs are really right for them.”
Blankenship believes that patients ought to be aware of the dangers that prolonged exposure to OPRs can lead to, while also encouraging providers to take caution when prescribing OPRs for any considerable length of time.
Public awareness of the issue can allow a patient to make informed decisions about their treatment options, and to decide whether OPRs are the right treatment for their pain.
The DeRidder Police Department has shown an effort to engage and inform the public about the growing epidemic.
The department hosted a meeting for the public on August 3 in DeRidder where Lieutenant Craig Richard, of the DeRidder Police Department, spoke at length in regards to the epidemic. He gave a presentation on how the epidemic came to be, what it has become and on the several different types of synthetic, illicit opiate drugs flooding into the general public today.
“When these drugs were first introduced, they were designed to help people,” Richard said. “The 1980s and 90s introduced these opioids as a means of treatment for pain, but of course there were adverse effects, it started to become addictive and that lead to a series of abuse regarding them.
“People built up a tolerance for them, and they started to need them every day. Of course, if you can’t get those prescriptions, you turn to alternatives that are more readily available, and this is where the street level drugs start to take hold and become a real problem. It’s a dangerous but easy solution for people that are addicted to that chronic pain cycle.”
Richard expressed the importance of public awareness to not only fight back against the epidemic but to also give the public the tools they need to prevent further deaths in their community.
Awareness of how addiction can form, as well as the dangers synthetic and illicit opioids, can have on an already afflicted individual can help to try and prevent abuse of these drugs and reevaluate how they should be used.
With Louisiana in such a dire state, what measures are being taken to combat the continued spread of this epidemic?
In all actuality, quite a few.
The State of Louisiana is currently in the process of filing an open litigation lawsuit against opioid manufacturing companies.
The state claims that the opioid manufacturing companies have misled the state on the addictive nature of OPRs and are contributing to the growing rate of addiction and mortalities.
In March of this year, Beauregard Parish entered into the open litigation along with several other Louisiana parishes, seeking damages for the payments made through Medicaid on opioid prescriptions as well as the treatment costs tied to opioid abuse.
“This is all to really help the people that have been suffering from this epidemic, the people that have been really struggling with this problem,” Carlos Archield, head of the Beauregard Police Jury Legislative Committee said. “A majority of the money from this would go to clinics and counsels, and that’s the main goal; to help the people of DeRidder and all across Louisiana, as well. We need to help these people, all the people who are addicted either by the synthetics or by simple prescription.”
The litigation passed into the hands of the Attorney General’s office in March of this year, which will be leading the case with other state agencies and health departments to pursue all claims Louisiana has made in light of the damages made by the opioid epidemic.
In addition to the litigation, the state of Louisiana, itself, has been awarded $8.16 million as part of a grant awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in April of this year.
The grant is designated as a means to support efforts to prevent opioid abuse and expand treatment opportunities for victims of abuse.
SAMHSA will be distributing a $1 billion dollar grant throughout the United States in September of this year to further combat the growing opioid epidemic.
On a national level, several health programs and government responses have been taking place.
In April, the National Institutes of Health launched their HEAL initiative, which seeks to stem the tide of the addiction epidemic through aggressive research models.
The initiative will be tackling research into the neurological sciences involved with pain and addiction. It will also provide new strategies for treatments and counsels for opioid abuse victims.
In order to expand and bolster the effectiveness of treatment for all victims, the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence (AATOD) has been hard at work on a proposed five-year plan.
Beginning in 2017 and continuing through 2021, the plan would increase the number and outreach of Opioid Treatment Programs (OTP) in the United States, as well as increasing access to third-party reimbursements for Opioid Treatment Programs.
The American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence will be continuing its working relationship with both federal and state governments in order to further access to OTPs for the general public throughout the nation.
It will also continue to work with federal and state agencies to provide access to reimbursement by insurers for OTPs.
The AATOD also plans to better inform and train relative parties on the proper use of federally approved medications, in order to build OTPs as significant and centralized centers for treating Opioid addiction disorders.
The vigor to stem the tide of the problem has only grown in tandem with the epidemic itself, as new regulations, grants and organizations begin taking measures to combat the threat from a multitude of angles.
While opioid-related death rates continue to rise across the nation, there is a significant pushback being formed on local, state and national levels.
Developments from several different agencies, organizations and federal institutions are hard at work trying to create awareness and provide solutions to the growing epidemic.
The country has been fighting against this growing problem ever since its inception in 1999, but the steps being taken in recent years show a degree of promise for what can be accomplished.
Where is the country going? Only time will tell.