President Trump’s declaration that the opioid epidemic is a national public health emergency is a step toward tackling the crisis, but it also brings attention to the current social and economic welfare of Americans.

With misuse and addiction of prescription painkillers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, the economic burden in the U.S. alone is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs associated with healthcare, addiction treatment, criminal justice involvement, and lost wages.

Meanwhile, national and local level programs are being created to help people understand drug addiction better. What’s going to happen now?

A Systems Approach

The opioid crisis is a complex issue, which means all levels of involvement need to be coordinated at the national, state and community level. Here’s a small sampling of what’s going on at the federal level.

  • The U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a proposed rule that would allow millions of physicians to increase the limit of a medication used to treat opioid addiction from 100 to 200 patients.
  • The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has 2016 guidelines for physicians to prescribe opioids responsibly.  But they are just guidelines and not uniformly enforced or monitored.
  • The federal government is granting $1 billion over the next two years to be split among all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, and the free states of Palau and Micronesia to fight the opioid crisis.  

Effective intervention is a great start in fighting drug addiction, but changes involving everyone on the medical, legislative, behavioral, and educational levels will be required along the way to give a clearer solution and understanding of opioid addiction

Doctors’ Roles

While doctors certainly aren’t the sole cause of addiction, they certainly play a vital role and physicians can be held liable if they fail to meet the applicable standards of care that results in harm to patients.

At a recent state conference, a surgeon from Massachusetts General Hospital said he and his colleagues believe their patients can and do take opioids without getting addicted. However, he said it is eye-opening to learn that of the people who do develop problems, 54 percent got their first pill from a friend or relative. Almost all of those secondhand pills originally came from a real prescription.

He believes that doctors definitely need to rethink their procedures in light of the opioid addiction epidemic. A Massachusetts state law limits first-time opioid prescriptions for adults to a seven day supply with the option to partially fill a prescription. It also requires prescribers to educate on pain management and addiction. How effective are those steps in really combating drug addiction? Time will tell.

Families Coping

An estimated 200,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses since oxycodone was introduced in 1996. The fatal overdose rate continues to climb, especially in New Hampshire and West Virginia. These deaths affect their loved ones deeply, which is why support groups and initiatives around the country are popping up.

The increase in opioid use has led to an increase in the number of children being removed from their homes and placed into foster care. In fact, parents with substance abuse disorders is the second-most common cause for children entering the foster care system.

It takes a village to address the opioid crisis and it’s a problem that can’t be solved overnight. National programs, doctors reflecting on their role in the opioid epidemic and family coping skills will continue to evolve over time and hopefully result in a decline in opioid abuse and overdoses.

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