Opioid epidemic finally gets addressed with new national program

In Opinion
Despite being neglected in the past, the problem of opiates is finally being addressed on a large scale. Hopefully, this program will be the start of rehabilitation for the many that have fallen prey to the spiral of addiction that was previously ignored. (Cathryn Edwards / Daily Titan)

America has 99 problems, but addressing the opioid epidemic ain’t one.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced in 2016 that it would give $53 million worth of funding in order to “improve access to treatment for opioid use disorders, reduce opioid related deaths and strengthen drug misuse prevention efforts,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Forty-four states were slotted to receive funding through six different programs, and those vital funds have just started to come in within the past few days.

The funds are also meant to “support improved data collection and analysis around opioid misuse and overdose as well as better tracking of fatal and nonfatal opioid-involved overdoses,” according to SAMHSA.

It’s about time that something starts to be done about this major problem. It’s a step in the right direction and one that will hopefully inspire action on other problems.

More than 91 people a day die from an opiate overdose and deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone—this has more than quadrupled since 1999, according to a 2016 study by the CDC.

Nikan Khatibi, a board member at CalOptima and anesthesiologist/pain management specialist, said in a March 3 online presentation that the number of deaths attributed to opioid use is “astronomical.”

“What’s sad to say now is that more people actually die from an opiate overdose rather than a car accident,” Khatibi said.

Orange County isn’t immune to this crisis either. Opioid dependence is the second-leading cause of substance-related hospitalizations and the leading cause of death by major drug categories and combinations in Orange County, according to a 2017 study by OC Health Care Agency.

Not only that, but the OC Health Care Agency reports that over half of all opioid-related overdoses were due to prescription opioids (56 percent; e.g., OxyContin, Hydrocodone).

For the most vulnerable, it is even harder to stop the cycle of addiction. Opioids can produce withdrawal symptoms just hours after the last dose, and the symptoms can last for a week or more, according to American Addiction Centers.

That’s over a week of nausea, muscle cramping, depression, agitation, anxiety and opiate cravings without any resources or help to keep them from relapsing.

“Nationwide, more than 45 percent of the people who suffer a fatal prescription drug overdose are enrolled in Medicaid, the program for the poor that we call Medi-Cal in California,” said
Richard Bock, M.D., and deputy chief medical officer of CalOptima, in his 2017 OC Register article.

Though this program is great to have in place, it’s all too easy for certain people to be taken advantage of and be coerced into a downward spiral of addiction.

“Over-prescribing of opioids is twice as high for this group, which has six times the risk of overdose death, compared with the general population. It’s no surprise that addiction is closely associated with poverty, homelessness and mental health issues,” Bock said.

Of the six programs these funds support, the only program being funded for California is the Prescription Drug Overdose: Prevention for States program.

Through this program, states have the ability to enhance prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), further prevention efforts, execute and evaluate strategies to improve safe prescribing practices, which is exactly what California, especially Orange County, desperately needs.

It’s too soon to say if the funding, the programs and the states are all going to do what needs to be done to help this epidemic, but the prospects are bright. It’s nice to see that the government is finally following through on something that has been negatively affecting the country for a while now.

Hopefully this trend will continue in dealing with the other 99 problems.

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