January 9, 2023

The Opioid Epidemic Is Sweeping The Nation; This Is How We’re Fighting Back

Opioid use disorder has been on the rise in recent years, with opioid use making up 72% of all overdose deaths. Because of the dangerous nature of the prevalence of these drugs, the DEA has begun to crack down on the seizure of opioids, especially synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. In 2022 alone, the DEA seized over 379 million doses of fentanyl in an effort to reduce the tragic loss of life due to these deadly drugs. 

According to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, “These seizures – enough deadly doses of fentanyl to kill every American – reflect DEA’s unwavering commitment to protect Americans and save lives, by tenaciously pursuing those responsible for the trafficking of fentanyl across the United States.” The heightened vigilance of the DEA couldn’t come at a better time, as the CDC has chosen to loosen their guidelines on opioid prescription, which will cause even more of the drug to flood the streets. 

While the CDC is doing so in an effort to provide better pain management for patients dealing with chronic pain, the risks far outweigh the benefits. State health departments across the state have voiced their concerns over the CDC decision, with Dr. Kenneth A Scheppke, Florida’s Deputy Secretary for Health, posting a response to these new guidelines. In his response Scheppke disagrees with the CDC’s decision to classify opioids as “essential medications for the management of pain,” believing this to undermine the danger associated with opioid use. 

As Scheppke states, “Overprescription of opioids has led to addiction and dependence on illicit drugs. In one study, 80% of heroin users reported that they began this illicit drug use after being prescribed opioids. Therefore, the warning to prescribers should be that prescriptions are often the pathway to illicit drug dependence and have contributed to the fentanyl crisis.” Scheppke’s disapproval for the new CDC guidelines is not the only instance of government officials recognizing the debilitating effect that opioid use disorder has had on the population.

On December 20 of 2022, lawmakers rolled out a bill that provides a substantial budget increase to a variety of services that plan to increase US progress, with the bill totalling $1.7 trillion. Of this large amount, health agencies are set to receive the biggest budget increase out of any agencies to the amount of $120.7 billion, an 8.93% increase from the previous year. 

Specifically within this bill, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is given $7.5 billion, a 15% budget increase from the previous year, which highlights the dedication of the government not just to overall health and safety of the American population, but to efforts to end the substance use epidemic as well.

In addition to this national budget increase, certain state governments are also putting their own legislation into motion in the fight against opioid use disorder. Florida governor Ron Desantis passed new legislation in mid 2022 that cracks down on opioid dealers and traffickers by enhancing the penalties for the sale and distribution of opioids in Florida. The goal of this is to improve the safety of Florida residents by making these dangerous drugs less accessible for illicit purchase.

Our home state of Georgia has also been on the path to increase safety and fight against opioid misuse, with Senator Jon Ossoff passing his bipartisan bill to prevent and treat opioid addiction. This bill, named the Rural Opioid Abuse Prevention Act, was created in collaboration with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. According to Ossoff’s press release, “The bipartisan law will surge federal dollars to provide rural communities with the support they need to combat the epidemic and prevent addiction.”

This bill is predicted to have many benefits, and many organizations voiced their support of the bill’s passage. As stated by the Small & Rural Law Enforcement Executives’ Association, “The opioid epidemic in rural America is unprecedented in our history…Rural and tribal communities across our country continue to struggle with this epidemic and the COVID pandemic has made the drug overdose epidemic worse.” 

The opioid epidemic and the COVID pandemic are intrinsically linked– not only did isolation from the initial COVID lockdown lead to increased drug use and overdose death, but opioid and cocaine use also leads to increased issue when contracting COVID– people with opioid and cocaine addictions are much more likely to die when contracting COVID due to strain on their cardiovascular systems. According to a study published in Molecular Psychiatry on December 13, 2022, those who suffer from cocaine and opioid use disorders are more likely to develop endocarditis after a COVID diagnosis.

This study highlights the fact that the pandemic has caused extra strain on those dealing with opioid misuse, and the death rates from substance use disorder have increased significantly throughout the pandemic. As an article about current US life expectancy discusses, “Drug overdose deaths also increased significantly throughout the pandemic, reaching record levels in 2021. Nearly 107,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2021, driving the age-adjusted death rate for overdoses up more than 14% in one year and 50% over the past two years.

As summed up by Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “The pandemic had a magnifying effect on an already-devastating overdose crisis, and exacerbated many of the stressors in society that make people more vulnerable to taking drugs.” This unfortunate fact explains the reason why the government has turned their focus towards fighting against the opioid crisis by passing an increasing amount of laws that target opioid use disorder.

The life-saving medication Narcan has been at the forefront of many of these laws, as this drug reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. One such bill by California assemblymember Matt Haney is proposing that the state should be required to stock bars, gas stations, libraries, and SROs with the overdose reversal medicine–though the state would pay for the supply. As Haney told news outlets, “We have a tool that can save lives, and it should be everywhere. The crisis is here now. People are dying now.” 

Haney isn’t the only one who recognizes the importance of Narcan, as newly approved grants will provide school districts in Orange County, California with more access to the miracle medication. However, Narcan is not the only method being used to combat opioid use; as this medication only works to counteract opioid overdoses, some proposals are choosing instead to focus on more accessible treatment to fight against opioid use disorder as a whole. 

On December 13th of 2022, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration proposed an update to federal rules that will expand access to opioid use disorder treatment and help close the gap in care. The administration aims to do this with a rule change that “would allow Americans to access the treatment by allowing take home doses of methadone and the use of telehealth in initiating buprenorphine at opioid treatment programs (OTPs)”. Additionally, the administration would like to remove stigmatizing and outdated language when referring to the disorder, as well as support a more patient-centered approach and reduce barriers to receiving care.

Senator Edward J. Markey, who authored the Opioid Treatment Access Act in the early months of 2022 to improve access to methadone treatment for opioid use disorder, issued his own statement of approval for the SAMHSA proposal. Markey said in this statement, “We are in an overdose crisis, and today’s announcement from SAMHSA is an important step on our nation’s road to recovery…This proposed change in federal rules would save countless lives by heeding the advice of medical providers and breaking down needless barriers to treatment.”

While this is clearly a message of hope, as well as further proof of continued work in the fight against the opioid epidemic, Markey also warns that this is not the end of the crisis. Although giant strides have been made in 2022, Markey believes that “Congress must do more.” At the Christopher Wolf Crusade, we wholeheartedly agree. Our organization is incredibly proud of all the hard work put into making huge leaps of progress with the recent legislation, but the work is far from over. 

The opioid epidemic will continue to attack our nation until we are able to eradicate opioid use disorder and save the lives of our loved ones. Join CWC in the crusade against opioid misuse and help us prevent more people from being claimed as victims of opioid use disorder. By donating to our organization, you can help us further our research and train more Life Care Specialists to provide patients with a care coach to help them through recovery during their inpatient hospital stay.

The goal of our Life Care Specialists  is to implement a personalized pain management program that offers alternatives to opioid use, as well as mental health wellness skills and continued care after hospitalization. With our innovative program, our mission is to prevent opioid misuse and dependency before it ever starts by providing education about the dangers of opioid use and proactive management of any risk factors that could lead to opioid dependency. 

At CWC, we know that the work is never over when it comes to fighting the opioid epidemic, and we applaud all the effort that officials have made to increase access to treatment and medications; with our Life Care Specialists, we hope to reduce the necessity of Narcan and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) such as methadone and buprenorphine by preventing people from ever misusing opioids in the first place. Our patient-centric focus on fighting against the opioid crisis means that we are changing lives, one patient at a time.