Opioid abuse increases steadily but number of people getting help does not

Opioid abuse increases steadily but number of people getting help does not

A new study suggests that although the number of Americans with disorders and overdose deaths related to prescription opioid abuse has increased over the last several years, the number getting treatment for opioid dependence has remained the same.

A new study suggests that although the number of Americans with disorders and overdose deaths related to prescription opioid abuse has increased over the last several years, the number getting treatment for opioid dependence has remained the same.

Researchers from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in Rockville, Maryland surveyed data from about 472,000 people reported to use opioids for nonmedical purposes (i.e. not using the prescription as directed or using a prescription that had been written for someone else) between 2003 and 2012. The researchers also looked at national statistics on causes of death for the same period. Their results were shocking.

Over this 10-year period, overall opioid abuse fell from 5.4 percent to 4.9 percent of the population. At the same time, opioid related disorders rose from 0.6 percent to 0.9 percent.

In addition, the number of people who admitted to use opioid medication for more than 200 days increased.

80 percent of people with an opioid addiction do not seek or do not receive treatment.

For every 100,000 Americans, eight people a year will die of a drug overdose involving prescription opioids – about 8,200 total for the 10-year period studied.

“The results underscore the importance of addressing the prescription opioid crisis,” said lead author Dr. Beth Han of SAMHSA.

According to Dr. Han, the increased tendency to prescribe opioids during the 2000s lead to an increase in high-intensity opioid use.

Some, such as Dr. Lewis Nelson of the New York University School of Medicine are hopeful that the slight decrease in opioid use means that the government’s extensive programs are finally starting to take effect.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allocated $20 million in funds to 16 states to assist in efforts to reduce availability of prescription opioids and to study safe prescribing practices.

Despite of this positive sign, the real concern is the second half of the study, the part that shows rising rates of misuse. This increase suggests that “more patients are experiencing an inexorable progression from initial opioid use to frequent use,” according to the study.

“These numbers could come down if we reduce inappropriate opioid prescribing and use and develop new treatments for pain that are safer,” said Dr. Han.

Indeed, much of the funds the CDC distributed to the states was used to help develop effective training programs to help doctors identify and treat patients who are using prescription opioids for nonmedical purposes.

“The last decade has been a time of rapidly growing numbers of people dying from opioid overdoses,” said Brendan Saloner of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Yet “the ability of the health system to detect and provide timely access to treatment does not seem to be improving much.”

For its part, SAHMSA has created an Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit. This program “offers ways that medical providers, people who use opioids nonmedically, and others can recognize the signs of an overdose and effectively reverse it with naloxone (a lifesaving opioid overdose drug),” said Dr. Han.

Dr. Han and others who have studied the growing opioid epidemic have urged increased access to medication in a manner similar to methadone clinics. After all, an addiction, especially one as severe as an opioid addiction, needs chronic help to be overcome.

“There still are 17 states that don’t cover methadone maintenance under Medicaid, despite the fact that methadone maintenance has the strongest evidence base of increasing recovery rates,” said Saloner.

“The real challenge in this is getting more people into settings where they can get methadone and buprenorphine,” said Saloner. “We also need to think about changing the conversation about opioid addiction, which is a chronic relapsing illness, just like diabetes. Referring to drug users as junkies or criminals keeps people with addiction in the shadows and away from getting help.”

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Comments

  1. joe hall says

    In the USA we have NO doctors or professionals who truly understand addiction or even know the difference between addiction and dependency. Because the DEA the cruelest agency we have can only punish punish punish. Our anti-drug policy’s propaganda campaign has been so effective that even our doctors seem to think punishment is the only way to treat addiction, addiction mind you CAUSED BY THE DOCTOR prescribing opiates in the first place.

  2. ginger says

    I wonder why? Maybe its because they just put you in a room and tell you to get over it. There are no “genuine” treatment facilities unless you have lots of cash to fork over for it.

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