Managing the worsening opioid epidemic


Policy analysts are deeply concerned about the worsening opioid crisis in the US, and some are proposing radical measures to fight it.

A recently released study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine paints a grim picture of overdose and dependency among opioid users. Researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston and the University of Chicago report that opioid-related overdose deaths in the US have doubled since 2000 -- a result of addiction to both prescription painkillers like oxycodone and illegal drugs like heroin. Alongside this worsening trend, opioid overdose admissions requiring treatment in hospital intensive care units (ICUs) surged 34 % from 2009 to 2015, the study found. During this same period, the death rate for these ICU patients climbed from 7.3 % to 9.8 %. Drug overdoses are currently the number one killer of Americans under the age of 50.

“When we think of overdoses, we need not to just think about whether people died or survived, but also about the tremendous personal and societal costs” Dr Jennifer Stevens of Harvard Medical School, a lead author of the study, told Reuters.

Some specialists suggest that greater access to traditional opioid substitutes would lead to positive change. “People who use injection drugs should obtain naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, and use drugs with partners who can help them,” says Brendan Saloner, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. “There is unfortunately a lot of stigma about medication treatments, but they are safe and work,” Saloner added. “Long-term change is possible and recovery is a realistic goal, but it requires time and patience.”

Yet some suggest that standard treatments are failing to address the problem. Instead of providing  methadone and naloxone substitutes, Chelsea Cox, a candidate for a JD and a Master of Health Administration at Dalhousie University, argues that we should de-stigmatise marijuana and make the drug more readily available:

“Patients want access [to medicinal marijuana] … A team from University of California, Berkeley reported that 93% of patients said that they decreased their use of opioids when they also used medical marijuana. These numbers show the need for governments to get on the same page as patients – especially with 142 Americans dying from drug overdoses each day.” 



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