It’s an uphill battle, fighting opiate drug dependency and helping someone step from the shadows into the light. Addiction is a terrible disease, capturing its victims and holding them ensnared to the rituals of habit and the losses that come with drug dependency. There are stories of harm and failure, yes—but there are also joyful stories of success.
In March 2015, the government’s Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary announced new measures to fight opiate drug dependency using a three-pronged approach. The first focus will be on health care providers, so that they learn to “make better pain-management decisions to prevent overprescribing.” Second, at the local level, there will be a greater availability of naloxone, a drug that can be injected intramuscularly or absorbed via nasal tissue to reverse the effects of a fatal opiate overdose. Third, there will be a greater emphasis on the utilization of medication-assisted treatment programs to help people overcome opiate drug dependency, whether it’s heroin, pain pills, or another opiate.
Teach Doctors Not to Contribute to Drug Dependency
The first phase of this battle—because it really is a battle against an addiction that literally kills thousands of people in this country each and every year—will require doctors to participate in training for safer opiate prescribing. All doctors have minimum training requirements that they must demonstrate in order to maintain their licenses and their affiliation with local hospitals, so the opiate prescription training will likely be mandated as part of that.
Many people, including doctors, simply are not aware that long-term opiate prescriptions not only create an opiate drug dependency, they also instigate a condition called hyperalgesia, which is an increased sensitivity to pain. It means that a normal, natural touch on one person might actually be painful to someone who has been taking prescription pain pills over a long period of time.
Naloxone: For or Against?
The second initiative will confront the controversy and the lack of availability of naloxone, packaged as Narcan. Narcan comes as an injectable drug and also in a nasal spray formulation. If someone shoots up too much heroin or takes an overdose of pain pills, they can literally be brought back from death’s door with the use of this medication. The CDC reports that between 1996 and 2010, over 10,000 deaths were prevented with its use.
The controversy has raged between people who favor putting this drug in the hands of anybody who lives with a heroin addict and people who believe that the availability of Narcan means that addicts will have no incentive to stop using.
There is also the cost factor, as one upper-middle-class, conservative lady complained: “Why should my tax dollars pay for junkies?” Let’s just hope they don’t ask for her opinion on libraries and road maintenance. ′Nuff said on that subject!
An Emphasis on Medication-Assisted Treatment
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), involving the use of methadone or Suboxone, has also been the focus of controversy—for decades. Too many people fail to recognize its effectiveness and they see it as nothing better than the substitution of one drug for another. Heroin addicts aren’t cured, they say; they have just switched from heroin to methadone.
Yet success stories abound involving the use of MAT for opiate drug dependency. People who go into methadone treatment take a daily dose of medication under medical supervision, and then they go about full and active daily lives. Instead of living life in the fringes, in the shadows, interacting with drug dealers and putting unknown or excessive drugs into their systems, they embark on daily activities that do not include a preoccupation with their next drug fix. They get help for medical, legal, and vocational issues. Parenting classes or family group sessions help them find their way back to life as it should be. Twelve-step meetings teach them that they can lift their heads with pride in themselves, because they are not alone, and they are working to beat a vicious medical disease.
The HHS initiative will also address the resistance from insurance companies that don’t want to pay for drug dependency treatment. Barriers to entering MAT programs will be lifted. Policies will be developed that prevent people from getting the help they need.
People suffering from opiate addiction have a right to receive treatment for this debilitating medical diagnosis, just like a person with diabetes has unlimited access to treatment. Life as it should be: That should be the mantra for every person struggling with drug dependency. Call your local methadone clinic today to find out what’s possible for you.