A number of major media outlets have taken it upon themselves, and for good reason, to shine a light on prescription opioid and heroin abuse. For over a decade now, our nation has been severely affected by the opioid epidemic, a crisis that takes over 70 lives a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While health agencies and lawmakers are working hard to increase access to both the life saving overdose reversal drug naloxone and addiction treatment, there is still a lot more that needs to be done to combat the calamity. This week, the United States Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). If the bill passes in the House, the legislation will give the Attorneys General the power to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use. The funding will be used for strengthening a number of programs and initiatives, including: addiction education and prevention, prescription drug monitoring and treatment. CARA is just one effort among a multifaceted interagency approach to addressing the opiate epidemic. The White House, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, et al., are all committed to saving lives and providing access to substance use disorder treatment. What’s more, there is still a lot that the American public does not understand about the drug crisis and the true scope of the disease of addiction. Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) along with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released a film: “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict”. The film was created mainly for young Americans, and was essentially a call to action for the public to take part in ending the opioid epidemic. Towards the end of February, PBS aired a new "Frontline" documentary "Chasing Heroin." The film is nearly 2 hours long, and took a year to film. The documentary covers a number of elements of the epidemic, but perhaps the most interesting aspect was the coverage of how law enforcement is addressing the problem. Police officers are acting as social workers and not jail taxis, instead of slapping on the handcuffs they are referring addicts to addiction treatment services. You can watch a short clip below or watch the full documentary by clicking here. Tonight, ABC News will air a special edition of "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET. "Breaking Point: Heroin in America." The report covers the ongoing heroin epidemic in New Hampshire. “When you realize that nearly everyone you meet has been touched by the drug in some way, that’s really eye-opening,” said David Muir. “It helps begin a conversation out there, and the more we can be part of the conversation, the better.” We hope that everyone, whether the opioid epidemic has touched you or not, will take time to watch the important documentaries. We can all have a hand in the solution to this insidious problem.
There is no question, the opioid epidemic in the United States is both unprecedented and insidious; however, if there is a silver lining to be found it is that the crisis has forced an evolution to occur regarding how we, as a nation, both view and talk about addiction. For years, addiction experts have said that addiction does not discriminate - an assertion that was hard for many lawmakers to accept; however, in the wake of the scourge of opioid addiction affecting practically every demographic throughout the nation for well over a decade - we are now seeing a paradigm shift with how lawmakers believe we should handle this calamity. It has become clear that we cannot arrest this epidemic away, as we tried to do during the 1980’s through the ‘90s with the cocaine problem in America. The use of draconian drug laws to combat addiction focused more on the symptoms of addiction and did little to address the disease of addiction. Addiction cannot be treated with steel bars, solutions can only be found with evidence-based, scientifically accepted methods of substance use disorder treatment. With 44 people dying from overdoses every day, there is a great need for expanded access to both the life saving opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and to substance use disorder treatment services. In recent months, there has been an inter-agency push to get those struggling with addiction the help they need without fear of prosecution. Overdose survivors do not need to fear be arrested, and are actually being directed to rehabilitation services. In fact, the President is asking Congress for $1.1 billion to expand access to addiction treatment services; in some places, addicts who would like help have to wait up to a month to get a bed at treatment centers. While making treatment more available is huge and has the potential to save thousands of lives, there is also a need for more in the way of prevention through education. Recently, both the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) joined forces to make a film about the opioid epidemic - aimed at youth, The Washington Post reports. The goal is to prevent adolescents from abusing prescription opioids, which is strongly believed to be the link to beginning heroin use. The film: "Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict" was produced at the insistence of James Comey, the current Director of the FBI. “You will see in ‘Chasing the Dragon’ opioid abusers that have traveled a remarkably dangerous and self-destructive path,” said Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg. “I hope this will be a wakeup call for folks. Please pay close attention to this horrific epidemic. Help reverse it. Save a life. Save a friend. Save a loved one.” We hope that you will watch Chasing the Dragon below: If you are having trouble watching the film, please click here.