The 130 people who are estimated to die every day from an opioid-related drug overdose serve as a stark reminder that the nation is gripped by an opioid epidemic. In fact, the federal Health and Human Services last year declared it a national public health emergency.
To combat the opioid epidemic, the HHS created a five-point strategy that includes better addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services; better data; better pain management; better targeting of overdose-reversing drugs; and better research.
One strategy HHS did not suggest, which some countries have employed, is the legalization of all drugs. Since doing just that in 2001, Portugal, for example, has seen a drastic drop in overdoses, drug-related crimes and incarcerations and more. But can such decriminalization help the U.S. end its own opioid epidemic?
“I think the question we have to ask is if what we’ve been doing since the Nixon administration, the war on drugs, is it working?” said Jim Peake, an addiction business and marketing consultant and president of addiction-rep.com. “Some will say yes, some no. I personally would say no, so if something’s not working, you have to change it or cut it, try something different.”
Peake, however, is not in favor of a complete national rollout should full legalization become an approach the U.S. takes. Instead, he suggests piloting it in states that have been hit hard by the opioid epidemic.
“I think we have to look to see if there are places out there that are having success by legalizing,” he said. “If you look at Portugal, fewer people are on drugs, more are in treatment and less people are dying. I think that if we are open to growing and learning, we have to look at some other alternatives because too many people are affected by this, too many families are absolutely destroyed. Talk about destroying the fabric of our country.”
Opioid epidemic: 6 things to do when choosing a rehab
An actual solution to the opioid epidemic is likely something we won’t see in the U.S. anytime soon, if ever. On the frontlines of fighting the crisis are more than 14,000 substance abuse facilities across the country, but how do you choose which one should treat you or your loved one?
“One of the first things to do is ask if the place you’re calling is an actual rehab,” Peake said. “Ask what type of license they have, and look it up. Each state is going to be different. Make sure you’re talking to a treatment center and not a call center or third-party.”
Other tips he suggests:
• Ask how much one-on-one time a patient will have with a counselor.
• Connect with the person(s) actually providing the care, “not just the marketing guy answering the phone.”
• Decide which treament locale works best. “One is to stay close to home to involve the family in the treatment, and the other is to go out of town and change people, places and things,” Peake explained. “Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and it’s individual for each case.”
• Think beyond 30 days. “Doing a 30-day program in any place and expecting to be sober afterward probably isn’t going to get you a very good result,” Peake said. “Doing a 30-day program and a one- or two-year outpatient program is going to get you much better results.”
• Look at reviews. “When you’re looking at a rehab, type in the name of the rehab plus reviews,” Peake said. “Every rehab is not going to have 100 percent. If they do, they’re probably skewed. You want to see some consistent positive patterns. You’d do it for when you go out to eat, right?”
So what are opioids?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine and many others.”
While opioid pain relievers can be safe if taken short-term, regular usage can result in dependence and “lead to addiction, overdose incidents and death” when misused the NIDA said.