Drug overdose deaths in the United States topped 72,000 in 2017 according to a new Center for Disease Control report, an increase of nearly 10 percent from 2016. These numbers translate into 200 deaths per day in the US for drug overdoses, or one every 8 minutes. The primary force behind the increase has been synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and oxycodone. While there is no clear boundary separating types of people who fall into addiction, the opioid epidemic seems to affect poor, rural, working class communities the most. Drug overdoses are now a leading killer of American citizens, more than car accidents, gun violence and HIV/AIDS in 2017.
States with high overdose rates like Vermont and Massachusetts saw decreases as they have stepped up funding for drug addiction treatment programs. However as states reduce access to pharmaceutical grade prescription opioids, a dangerous black market is emerging to fill the void of demand for these drugs. Fentanyl is a cheap, easily produced synthetic opioid that has been flooding the streets of American cities. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin. It is being mixed with a variety of street drugs from cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax. Illicit drug manufacturers are mixing fentanyl in their drugs to increase the potency and potential for addiction. This makes the dealers more money and many addicts simply do not know what they are getting when buying drugs on the streets these days. Nearly half of all drug overdose deaths in 2017 were from these types of synthetic opioids alone.
Naloxone is an ‘opioid antagonist’ that helps block the opioid receptors in the brain and can help stop an imminent overdose. This is what singer Demi Lovato’s friends had on hand and administered to her when she was having an overdose. It most likely saved her life. More and more communities are allowing public access to Naloxone (known as Narcan) and they are seeing a reduction in overdose deaths as a result. One specific example is Dayton, Ohio. After seeing the highest rate of overdoses in the state, Dayton officials launched a multi-tiered plan to combat drug related deaths. One major component of this was a harm reduction practice that distributed Naloxone doses to the public. This offered training and increased public awareness of this life-saving technique. In 2017 this program helped administer 2,507 doses, which undoubtedly saved many lives.
Dayton, Ohio also increased access to treatment and recovery services by increasing the number of residential detox beds by 6, which raised the number of patients they could treat yearly from 415 to 730. They also bolstered access to outpatient services, and recovery houses which have all contributed to the declining numbers of overdose deaths. Care Source, Ohio’s largest Medicaid provider announced that they had cut the number of opioid prescriptions to its members by 40 percent in the last 18 months.
All of these are helping to combat the opioid epidemic, but no single strategy alone is enough to stop this national emergency. We need to address not only the effects that drug abuse has on our population, but the underlying causes as well. A strong coalition of government, industry and the community is necessary to curb accidental drug overdoses in our great nation.
Since relapse is a normal part of the drug rehabilitation process, we need to add a greater emphasis of reducing the stigma associated with drug abuse. Many addicts are simply too embarrassed to even ask for help. Instead of treating addicts like criminals, we need to recognize they are our family members, friends, coworkers and neighbors who are battling their addictions and they should not be barred from receiving the help they desperately need.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, do not hesitate to call. We are open 24/7 and a licensed professional is available to take your call and get you the help you need.