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Emphasis on punitive measures rather than treatment worsened America’s opioid crisis

12-14 | By Rachael

Emphasis on punitive measures rather than treatment worsened America’s opioid crisis

Opioid overdose deaths have been climbing by thousands for years now. Drug overdose deaths more than tripled in the United States between 1999 and 2015 from 16,849 to 52,404. In 2015, 33,000 people died due to overdose of opioids (including prescription opioids, heroin and analogs of fentanyl). In 2016, the overdose deaths are estimated to have crossed 64,000, which is largely being blamed on the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogs.

Prescription opioids started creating problems in the late 1990s, when the doctors started prescribing the medicines in excess even for normal pains. It led to widespread misuse of these highly addictive medications. Since then, despite various efforts, the scenario hasn’t shown any improvement as far as overdose deaths are concerned. This presents the stark inability of a nation to manage the crisis despite the long-standing destruction due to the opioid epidemic.

Unlike other problems related to different types of drugs in the past, the opioid crisis spiraled out of control due to the unpreparedness and flawed policies of the government and society. Therefore, poor remedial measures from both the society and the government despite their similar previous experiences played a key role in turning opioid crisis into an epidemic.

The previous instances of drug-related disasters (crack cocaine) had largely affected black communities and the state responded by criminalizing addiction, passing laws that locked up drug users and dealers, etc. Under such punitive measures, the culprits were sentenced to long prison sentences, such as mandatory minimum period of incarceration. However, such a harsh approach is now being considered a mistake by many policymakers, including some Republicans. Therefore, they are unitedly voicing for the removal of such measures.

By not responding to the crisis as a health hazard, the U.S. is now unable to deal with the problem that is now affecting people of all races and ages. Moreover, the policymakers did not invest in the correct infrastructure required for addiction treatment that led to the worsening of the users’ condition.

Although the authorities are waking up to the reality now, only 10 percent of people with a substance use disorder (SUD) currently receive specialty treatment. A major part of such treatments has little involvement of primary or general health care. Lately, there has been a slight shift in the treatment of SUD due to the accommodation of early intervention and treatment services within the ambit of general health care.

Key hurdles

Due to the lack of effective measures in the 1980s and the 1990s, there exists a wide gap in the preparedness of the nation in tackling the opioid crisis of such a magnitude. If addiction treatment facilities were given more consideration instead of criminalizing the problem, the nation would not have been haunted by the epidemic that President Donald Trump recently declared a “national emergency.”

With the implementation of effective measures, addiction treatment benefits would have reached many due to their incorporation in the Medicaid system. This would have avoided long waiting periods and afforded easy access to treatment. However, it will take a long time to enunciate the above-mentioned measures, as they cannot be implemented overnight. Moreover, many states lack the resources to act quickly. Therefore, most of them would have to start from scratch and that would involve huge investment.

To boost addiction treatment and fill up the lacunae, the drug policy experts have estimated that the U.S. will have to spend billions of dollars every year. Instead, states should be encouraged to use their existing systems to deal with the overdose crisis because most of them already have the means to carry out that kind of response.

Path to an addiction-free life

Although these systems have been widely ineffective, it can be enhanced through earnest efforts. Given the number of prisons in the U.S., it is called as the “world’s leader in incarceration.” Therefore, the need of the hour is to invest more on treatment and recovery than on the criminalization of the users.

If you or your loved one is struggling with addiction, contact the Colorado Substance Abuse Advisors to know about the state-of-the-art substance abuse treatment centers in Colorado. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-300-5857 or chat online with our representatives for further information about the evidence-based substance abuse treatment programs in Colorado.


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