In late October of 2017, President Donald Trump formally declared the opioid crisis in America a public health emergency. This occurred just two months after he made a speech addressing his plans to follow similar recommendations by the Presidential Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. They had suggested a slightly different approach, in the form of a federal state of emergency that would free up disaster relief funds through FEMA.
While the two forms of emergency declaration may differ, both address a crisis that has been spinning out of control for nearly twenty years. A brief look at the numbers indicates that Trump’s declaration has been needed for quite some time.
The Extent of the Opioid Crisis in America
The report issued by Chris Christie and the Presidential Commission notes that the number of opioid overdose deaths exceeded the population of Atlanta between 1999 and 2015. Opioids kill around 142 Americans on a daily basis. This means that, every three weeks, more Americans die by opioids abuse than died during the horrific September 11 attacks.
Figures suggest that these numbers have been rising. In 2015, over half a million people suffered from heroin use disorder, while 2 million were addicted to opioid painkillers according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Over 64,000 opioid-related deaths were estimated in 2016, with a particularly sharp increase (approximately 20,000) in deaths related to fentanyl.
This touches on one of the leading issues arising from the opioid crisis in America, which is the wave of drugs laced with fentanyl and carfentanil. These drugs are significantly more potent than heroin, which in turn makes them far more lethal. Their reach even extends beyond the opioid crisis, now that fentanyl has been found in other street drugs such as cocaine. Meanwhile, those who buy prescription opioids on the street will often receive counterfeit versions of an analog called W-18, which is not an opioid but is nonetheless one hundred times more potent than fentanyl and almost exactly as lethal as carfentanil.
It is easy to blame the pharmaceutical industry for the opioid epidemic. Overprescribing and medical practices that fail to account for patient needs on a case by case basis have also played a prominent role; however, stricter accountability by medical professionals will not solve the issue by a long shot. Unless countermeasures address the growing dangers of street drugs, those who struggle with substance use disorder will find themselves at great risk with every dose they administer. From 1999 to now, the opioid crisis in America has increasingly become nothing short of a death sentence.
Countermeasures Against Opioid Use
The recommendations set forth by the Presidential Commission would have allowed states affected by the opioid crisis to utilize money from the Disaster Relief Fund. Many believed, however, that this was an unnecessary step given the benefits offered by a public health declaration. Trump’s declaration of a public health emergency, the first of its kind since the 2009 influenza outbreak, will increase addiction treatment access for those in isolated areas and will allow the Department of Health and Human Services to hire more experts to handle the opioid crisis. Federal grant funds used by states for other purposes will also be temporarily shifted toward programs that focus on the treatment and prevention of opioid addiction. In addition, those whose careers have been negatively impacted by addiction will have greater access to Dislocated Worker Grants through the Department of Labor.
While the public health emergency will free up a lot of red tape and allow for some flexibility in how states address the opioid crisis, there is still an issue of funding. In fact, many of the steps now taken toward making treatment and prevention programs more available were technically taken well over a year ago when Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). The problem with CARA was that, while it allowed for the creation of helpful government programs, it lacked the funding to put such programs into action.
Likewise, the state of emergency declared on the opioid crisis in America will rely on money from the Public Health Emergency Fund, which currently consists of $57,000. Previous estimates put the cost of resolving the opioid crisis at well over $1 billion—or even tens of billions, by some accounts.
How You Can Combat the Opioid Crisis
While the government works on accruing the funding necessary to properly address the opioid crisis in America, it falls on the rest of us to do what we can. For the most part, our efforts should focus on building support for the issue. We may not feel like the average person can accomplish much, but you would be surprised at how much you can accomplish with a simple phone call or letter to your local representative. The more pressure they feel to address the issue on behalf of their constituents, the harder our representatives will work to make our voices heard.
Of course, it is hard to achieve radical change when much of the population still buys into the stigma that often plagues those who suffer from substance use disorder. By sharing our stories, we humanize the issue, allowing people to see that substance use disorder is more than simply a series of amoral choices. We provide insight into the true impact of the condition, and how it affects many people aside from the sufferer. When trying to create change, education and awareness are fundamental.
You may also wish to break through the red tape and begin creating change yourself. This can be accomplished through volunteer organizations that work to help those who suffer from substance use disorder, whether addicted to opioids or other substances. For more information on such programs, do some research on various volunteer organizations in your area and look into which types of people they help. Programs that benefit foster children, homeless individuals, military veterans and inmates will all inevitably help at least a few people who have been affected by the opioid crisis, as substance use disorder tends to have an unbalanced effect on these demographics. Many organizations also work specifically to prevent substance use or help sufferers seek treatment.
If you need help finding a place that works for you, consider giving us a call. If our addiction rehab facility is not the best fit, we can point you in the right direction to get you started. Furthermore, if you or anyone you know has been directly impacted by the opioid crisis in America, we can help you get treatment and set you on the right path to begin anew.