The Opioid Epidemic

Drug overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50, and the yearly death toll is rising faster than ever, primarily due to opioids. An estimated 27 million people use these illicit drugs or misuse prescription medications every day and this number is on the rise.

To put this into perspective, the rate of drug overdoses far exceeds that of the HIV epidemic at its peak. Sadly, drug overdoses now kill more Americans each year than guns or car accidents. Still, despite these grim statistics, only 10 percent of those suffering from addiction get treatment.

There are different explanations of why so few people get the care they need. Access to treatment is certainly a problem – especially in rural communities that suffer from bed shortages. But another problem is the stigma around drug abuse. It’s essential we understand that suffering from addiction is not a moral failing—it’s a disease. Just like hypertension, diabetes, and cancer.

It’s understandable that everyone is seeking answers for the cause of this crisis. But now it’s time to stop talking about who is to blame and instead focus on how best to assist patients suffering from this epidemic.

The truth is, there is not a panacea to helping patients fight their addiction — what works for one patient won’t necessarily be the best approach for someone else. That’s why it’s essential to embrace a variety of options that work for each specific patient. By using a comprehensive, integrated approach to care, we can devise individualized treatment plans that combine traditional psychotherapy with a gold standard of medication-assisted treatment, thus treating each patient as a whole person, and meeting their unique needs.

Despite the intensely negative headlines, there’s some good news here. Patients who receive medication-assisted treatment such as FDA-approved methadone, Buprenorphine, and Naltrexone are 50 percent less likely to die from this awful disease. Of course, drug addiction isn’t just a physical ailment, which is why treatment also needs to include psychotherapeutic interventions like peer support groups and family therapy.

By implementing this approach, we give our patients the best possible chance of success in their recovery.