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The United States is currently fighting a war against opioid addiction. In 2014, more people died of a drug overdose than ever before. Sixty percent of those deaths involved opioids. From 1999 to 2014, the number of deaths due to opioid overdose increased by 400%, and on an average day in the U.S., 3,900 people begin to abuse prescription opioids and 580 people start using heroin.
What has already been done?
In March of 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services started an Opioid Initiative, which works to improve prescribing practices, widen access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction, and to increase the use of naloxone, a medication used to prevent overdose by blocking opioid receptor sites.
A year later, the Department launched the National Pain Strategy, which works to improve pain management and prevention, to develop a patient-centered program that provides a wide range of options to treat pain, to allow better access to pain management, to improve the quality of care for people in pain, and to increase awareness of treatment options and their risks.
The National Institute of Health is working to figure out what could predict long-term opioid use and to identify who could be at risk for opioid addiction before they become addicts, as well as funding research into the foundations of pain and any genetic factors that might increase the risk of opioid addiction.
The Food and Drug Administration is also requiring that companies who make long-acting opioids do studies about the risks of use, abuse, addiction, overdose, and death associated with their products. The FDA is also researching the best ways to treat pain and has funded research and development of abuse-deterrent pain medications.
President Obama has also made the opioid epidemic a priority of the last year of his presidency. He has:
Expanded access to treatment through greater funding for substance use disorder treatments and MAT services.
Allowed doctors to take on more patients who would be prescribed buprenorphine, an opioid medication designed to treat opioid addiction.
Created a task force to allow for improved and equal access to substance use disorder treatment and to make sure that insurance coverage for substance use disorder treatments is comparable to coverage for medical and surgical treatments.
Allowing for substance use disorder treatment through Medicaid.
Starting syringe services programs to combat the spread of HIV and hepatitis.
However, President Obama will have to relinquish his title after this year’s election, leaving the growing epidemic in someone else’s hands.
What does the democratic leadership have to say?
During the Democratic National Convention (DNC), held July 25th-28th of 2016, the opioid epidemic was placed front and center. Among the first speakers were activist Pam Livengood and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, both of New Hampshire.
Livengood cares for her grandson because his mother—her daughter—is addicted to opioids. As Livengood says, “it started with the pain medication she was given after Francis [Livengood’s grandson] was born.” She went on to say that “it’s hard to explain just how devastating it is to watch your child struggle with substance abuse… Today my daughter is in treatment, but she has a long road ahead of her. My story isn’t unique. This epidemic has devastated communities all over the country.”
After Livengood spoke, Senator Shaheen followed with a message along the same lines. She amplified Livengood’s message by informing the DNC and everyone watching at home that “192 overdoses in 2013, 326 fatalities in 2014, and 433 fatalities in 2015” have taken place in her home state of New Hampshire. She went on to say that “addicts are being turned away from treatment facilities due to a lack of resources” and that “more than 47,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2014.”
Both women spoke highly of Hillary Clinton and her willingness to both listen to those affected by opioid addiction and fight the epidemic itself. In addition to their focus on the opioid epidemic, the DNC also highlighted alcoholism and mental health, with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh opening his speech by saying he was an alcoholic and Demi Lovato sharing how addiction and mental health issues have affected her.
In contrast, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was the only speaker at the Republican National Convention to mention the opioid addiction, when he briefly touched on the passage of “the first major law aimed at confronting the heartbreaking explosion of heroin and opioid abuse.”
What would a Clinton-Kaine administration do for the opioid epidemic?
Help communities prevent addiction through youth education.
Invest federal dollars in organizations that promote recovery.
Ensure that all first-responders have access to naloxone.
Require that all prescribers go through a prescription drug monitoring program before being able to prescribe opioids.
Make treatment a priority over jail time when it comes to low-level and/or nonviolent drug offenses.
Tim Kaine’s website states that, as a Senator, he prioritizes “combating the heroin and prescription drug abuse crisis that is harming communities across Virginia and the nation.” He too promotes increased access to naloxone, increased funding for the prevention and treatment of drug abuse, and for research into how to best combat the epidemic.
A rehabilitation facility is in no position to tell you who to vote for come November. However, it certainly seems that the Democratic Party has a comprehensive plan to fight the opioid epidemic and prevent future addiction, overdose, and death.
“Addiction and substance use.” Issues. HillaryClinton.com, 2016. 7 August 2016. <https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/addiction/>.
“DNC 2016 – Pam Livengood.”YouTube, 25 July 2016. 7 August 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6maZOaX2IY>.
“Healthcare.” Issues. Tim Kaine: United States Senator For Virginia. 7 August 2016. <http://www.kaine.senate.gov/issues/health-care>.
“HHS Opioid Research Portfolio Brief – Translating Science Into Action.” Department of Health and Human Services, 1 July 2016. 7 August 2016. <http://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opioid-report-v4-remediated.pdf>.
“Naloxone.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 3 March 2016. 7 August 2016. <http://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/naloxone>.
“National Pain Strategy.” The Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committees. The Department of Health and Human Services, 18 March 2016. 7 August 2016. <https://iprcc.nih.gov/National_Pain_Strategy/NPS_Main.htm>.
“The Opioid Epidemic: By The Numbers.” Department of Health and Human Services, June 2016. 7 August 2016. <http://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/Factsheet-opioids-061516.pdf>.
“Watch Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s full speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.” YouTube, 25 July 2016. 7 August 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yK8PPYsBJM>.
“What exactly is Buprenorphine?” The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 7 August 2016. <https://www.naabt.org/faq_answers.cfm?ID=2>.
How The Opioid Epidemic Took Center Stage At The DNC
Liz Lazzara is a freelance writer and editor living and working in Boston, MA. She is working on three large projects:
1) A book series about living with depression to be published this fall,
2) A memoir about her life with C-PTSD, and
3) A novel about schizophrenia, a Greyhound bus, and the Pacific Coast.
Thus far, she has been published both online and in print. Some of her bylines include All That Is Interesting, Bitch Media, Bust Magazine, The Huffington Post, Ravishly, Human Parts, The Coffeelicious, and Writer's Digest.