Yesterday was International Overdose Awareness Day. Where do we stand?
- Last year, the CDC reported on a 5 fold increase in female opioid overdose deaths over a 10 year period.
- Heroin use may not be as prevelant as the media suggests, but the number of users is up by 53% over 10 years.
- Overall overdose rates are up 5 fold since 1990. (It’s even worse if we go back to the 1970s)
- Drug overdose deaths have surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of injury related deaths.
- Prescriptions for opioids have increased tenfold since 1990 and opioid addiction tripled over a 10-year period.
This crisis has brought some good policy changes. Naloxone distribution programs are spreading fast and good Samaritan laws are spreading too. These policy changes will undoubtedly save lives, and that’s important.
There’s also no doubt that there are a lot of deaths that these programs won’t prevent. Consider the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. As is common, he appears to have died while using along, which casts doubt on any suggestions that naloxone and good Samaritan laws would have saved him. Even for those they save, they don’t offer a way out of their suffering and a lives that they hate.
How are we doing in terms of access to treatment of adequate intensity and duration? We don’t have much in the way of statistics for that, but it’s save to say that we’re not doing so well. We’ve got models that work really well, but we only use them with health professionals, lawyers and pilots.
Too often, we’ve had one faction calling for more treatment and another calling for harm reduction.
Naloxone is not enough. And, even access to quality treatment of adequate duration and intensity were improved, we couldn’t engage and successfully treat everyone.
We need a both/and approach rather than an either/or approach. Let’s increase access to naloxone and make sure that every rescue is followed by the kind of care an addicted health professional would get.