Time to end the U.S. opioid epidemic

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Read Full Article Pensacola News Journal

October 30, 2016

In 2014, nearly 2 million people in this country abused prescription painkillers, resulting in more than 28,000 overdose deaths. In 2012 alone, there were enough painkiller prescriptions written to provide every American adult with their own bottle. Egregious numbers that depict an astonishing epidemic that has reached a critical mass.

The opioid epidemic has aggressively infiltrated every corner of America. It’s wrath has torn families apart, flooded jails and prisons with first-time offenders, and chemically imprisoned an alarming number of veterans. Taking immediate action is no longer just an option, it is now an absolute necessity.

Finally, it looks as though Congress has heeded the warning.  With a new bill in play, law-makers are “testing the waters” on ways they can fight opioid addiction, without a dime being spent. Essentially, the plan will authorize grants to state and local governments in order to implement new approaches to preventing and treating opioid addiction. However, the source of funding for those grants is still very much a question mark.

But, when you put legislation shortcomings aside, there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic. Highlights of the bill include increased difficulty for Medicare recipients to abuse painkillers. It will give the pharmacist discretion to partially fill opioid prescriptions (thus reducing excess pills that could potentially be sold, or even stolen). It will also provide nurse practitioners with authorization to begin prescribing treatment for addiction.

Additionally, the bill will call for a procedural reform with the VA. It would expand training for opioid prescribers, and supply healthcare providers with greater information on who is taking opioids, as well as who is at risk for abuse. It will also push to make more overdose-treating drugs more widely available.

Let’s face it, this legislation is a far cry from what will ultimately be required to eradicate the opioid epidemic, but it’s certainly a very promising start. The next huge step would be getting doctors in drug courts to overcome their abhorrence to addiction treatment. The reality is this: Tens of thousands of incarcerated Americans will be released from jails and prisons before the years end. An enormous percentage of those will reenter society with the same unaddressed addictions that more than likely landed them behind bars in the first place.

For members of Congress, the ultimate show of commitment would be to fund the grant programs at the first available opportunity. Victory will require an unprecedented effort from everyone involved. Conquering this epidemic will, without a doubt, be a grueling more for quite some time to come. But, with this bill, and the hope and promise it brings, we finally have a dog in this fight.

Chad Mattson

Florida Department of Corrections