On the Opioid Epidemic

Last year in Delaware, 348 people died from drug overdoses, and nearly two thirds of those deaths were attributed just to the opioid Fentanyl (1). This death toll does not even begin to reveal the impact of this crisis in New Castle County. Jobs have been lost, families have been ripped apart, and thousands have been left feeling hopeless and lost as the opioid epidemic continues to increase in scope and magnitude. We can do better and we must do better.

As someone who has successfully treated people with addictions, I understand the true depth of the biological dependency along with the associated psychological issues. Provisions need to be made to support healing of the whole person in order to best help those suffering from addiction. We we need to pursue all psychological and emotional avenues of treatment and increase the use of some medication treatments that decrease cravings. Medications are frequently necessary since only twenty percent of people with opioid addiction can recover without medication assistance and continued abstinence is significantly helped by these crave reducing medications (2).

On the behavioral side of treatment, we have numerous organizations already in place to facilitate rehabilitation from addiction, but they are often underutilized and under-supported. Utilization of all resources at our disposal, including 12 step programs and other free support groups, is essential to providing true healing and recovery. Ultimately, the goal is for the recovering patients to return to normal lives. To ensure this, there are programs in place to provide transitional housing and assist with job placement. There is also the need for outpatient follow-up counseling to teach coping skills and to offer help in avoiding relapse. These types of programs are available almost exclusively to adults in recovery. We need to offer these treatments to our children and teens, and the recovery school, which had a building and many supplies donated to it, needs to be funded. All stages of treatment for opioid addicted children and teens should be offered here in Delaware.

Besides treatment of those already addicted, prevention is key to battling this epidemic. The only long-term way to turn around the nation’s opioid crisis is to effectively treat chronic pain. We need to evaluate the causes of the increase in abuse of these medications and target interventions for kids at risk. We need to be sure that schools are actually offering the required number of substance abuse education hours. We also need to be sure that insurers reimburse for alternative pain therapies because our society cannot afford the long-term cost of opioids.