At times, the American addiction opioid epidemic appears to be an unwinnable battle. Lawmakers and public health experts continue to do everything in their power – ostensibly – to impede the trend of ever-increasing overdose death rates. Police officers and other first responders have the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) on hand. Many opioid use disorders (OUDs) and their families can acquire Narcan kits without a prescription in many parts of the country. More doctors are now exercising additional significant caution when prescribing drugs like OxyContin and Percocet. And, perhaps most vital, the states hardest hit by the epidemic are expanding access to addiction treatment. However, to everyone’s dismay, the overdose death rate continues to climb with each passing year.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued preliminary estimates for the overdose death toll in 2017, and the findings are disconcerting. In 2016, the national overdose deaths were right around 64,000 Americans, but in 2017 the number jumped 10.2 percent with overdoses killing about 72,000. The startling number is not a final count which means there is an excellent chance that the toll is even more concerning.
In spite of all the hard work of thousands of Americans, more people than ever are caught in the vicious cycle of opioid addiction. The primary driving force behind the record-setting overdose death rates is – without any doubt – synthetic opioids like fentanyl. It is worth pointing out that there are good signs that almost get lost in the noise of data, some areas are doing better. In parts of the country hardest hit by the epidemic, there are promising indicators thanks to public health campaigns and expanding access to addiction treatment, The New York Times reports. So far in 2018, it looks like the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will see a decrease in overdose fatalities.
Tackling Widespread Opioid Use
The two driving forces behind the increase over 2016 are synthetic opioid analogs, and more people are using opioids, according to the article. Brandon Marshall, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health, would agree with the latter, he says the number of opioid users is increasing but not exponentially.
The C.D.C reports that synthetic opioid-related overdoses rose dramatically last year, whereas heroin, prescription opioid-related deaths fell. The agency says there is some evidence that fatal overdoses may have plateaued toward the end of last year, especially in the East. But, there is a reason to suspect things could get worse on the West Coast.
Chris Jones, the director of the national mental health and substance use policy laboratory, tells the NYT that drug distributors are discovering how to mix fentanyl with black tar heroin. Unlike the East Coast, the majority of heroin used in states like California is a black tarry-ish resin iteration of the drug. Black tar – experts say – doesn’t admix as well with fentanyl like the white powder heroin does found in states east of the Mississippi.
Persisting Stigma of Addiction
In 2016, a phone survey revealed that more than 2 million Americans were struggling with opioid use disorder. However, Dan Ciccarone, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, says the actual number might be closer to 4 million Americans. Why the 2-million-person discrepancy? Stigma! Many people are reluctant to share that they have a problem, even during an anonymous phone survey. Dr. Ciccarone, who researches heroin markets, adds:
Because of the forces of stigma, the population is reluctant to seek care. I wouldn’t expect a rapid downturn; I would expect a slow, smooth downturn.”
Naturally, anyone struggling with any form of addiction can do him or herself an excellent service by seeking addiction treatment immediately. While opioids are more likely to cause an overdose death than most other drugs, harmful synthetic opiates are showing up in substances other than heroin. Mixing fentanyl with cocaine, methamphetamine, and benzodiazepines is becoming more common. Unsuspecting addicts are at high risk, and the only sure way of avoiding contact with fentanyl is abstinence and working a program of recovery.
We understand that the decision to seek treatment isn’t made lightly, and the stigma of addiction is daunting. However, those who can find the courage to seek assistance can and do recover from the impact of drug and alcohol abuse. At PACE Recovery Center, we offer clients struggling with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders a safe and supportive environment. Our team of highly-skilled addiction professionals helps adult males overcome the challenges they have experienced due to alcohol and substance use disorders. Please contact us today to learn more about our specialized clinical treatment for men.