Statistics show that overdose deaths from prescription drugs and other opiates have surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of accidental death in most US states. America comprises 5% of the World population but uses 80% of its prescription drugs. 2014 had the highest levels of opioid overdose deaths ever. Which begs the question: Is there a prescription drug/opioid epidemic in this country?
Most of the US population seems to be (or chooses to be) unconcerned by the rampant use and misuse of prescription drugs in this country.
So, is Washington aware of the situation? Do they care?
Michael Botticelli, our newest Drug Czar, seems to be concerned and is trying to be proactive. He is the first Drug Czar who openly speaks about his own past history with drugs and alcohol and about being in long term recovery. He is sensitive to the stigma that Substance Abuse carries with it and the problems surrounding the families and loved ones. He is often out in communities listening.
Over the past six months I’ve had the opportunity to participate in some activities related to this “epidemic” where I found Mr. Botticelli quite engaged. In October there was a rally and march from the Washington Monument to the White House to address the issue of over prescribing drugs and drug education for doctors, as well as concern for FDA approval of so many different opiates developed by the drug companies. The majority of the crowd who rallied and marched were families and loved ones who had lost someone to an overdose or suicide attributed to prescription drugs. The White House was very aware of this show of “protest” and addressed the issue the next day at the Washington Monument during the Rally for Recovery, a celebration of the thousands of citizens in recovery today, like the drug czar, who are valuable members of our communities.
Just a few weeks ago Mr. Botticelli met via telephone conference with a group of moms of addicts to address their concerns and listen to our questions and requests. He says that he believes that parents/families are changing the conversation on drug use. He sees the conversation is more open and honest and less secret, and sees this as a good beginning to change the stigma.
Here are just some of the actions taken recently by Washington to change the direction of this tragic epidemic:
Health and Human Services released $94 million in new funding to 271 Community Health Centers towards treatment.
SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) is releasing $11 million to some states to increase Medically Assisted Treatment for opiate abuse.
They are working to make evidence based residential treatment available to those in jails and prisons and access to good re-entry services.
They have allocated $100 million in new funding to address the epidemic with more access to syringe service programs, supporting prevention, as well as more access for law enforcement to get drugs off the street and also to make Nalaxone, the overdose reversal drug, more available.
They are working on ways to make records for drug offenders less used as a screening tool.
Rehabilitation instead of Incarceration is a goal.
Many believe this is not enough. I guess we need to start somewhere. Are they listening and “hearing”? Time will tell. In the meantime, life goes on for some and others will continue to die.