Some new statistics are out that include data up through 2012 and 2013, numbers that show who’s drinking alcohol, who’s smoking cigarettes, and who’s getting high – and on what – in different parts of the country, according to the Huffington Post.
Though the data indicates that different substances are popular in different states, sometimes on a shifting basis, a couple of things are clear: substance abuse is still going strong in the United States even with the increase in education and changing regulations, and no part of the country is immune. Though some drugs have seen a drop in use in different parts of the country, others have seen a huge increase. The end result is that a steadily increasing percentage of Americans are using and abusing illegal and legal substances, and many are dying before they have a chance to get the treatment they need.
When someone abuses drugs or alcohol, in most cases, initial consequences of those choices are relatively minimal. They might experience a hangover the next day or make a stupid decision under the influence that they have to deal with later. In some cases, however, the consequences are extremely severe. That stupid decision under the influence may be to get behind the wheel of a car – and end up in a fatal accident – or to have unprotected sex with someone who is the carrier of a deadly STD. Or it may be to take more of the drug than they can handle or to combine the use of different substances, resulting in medical emergency, overdose, and death.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the number of Americans who made a fatal decision to use heroin in 2013 added up to more than 8,200 people. That marks a whopping 39 percent increase from 2012 to 2013. But heroin alone isn’t the only substance responsible for the high rate of overdose deaths in the United States. The CDC also found that, in 2013:
- There was a 6 percent increase in deaths caused by overdose or poisonous use of any substance between 2012 and 2013.
- There was a 1 percent increase in deaths caused by prescription painkiller overdose.
- Overdose deaths that were contributed to or caused by cocaine use increased by 12 percent.
- A total of 43,982 people lost their lives in this way.
In a statement, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) said: “These results demonstrate that while the Administration’s efforts to curb the epidemic of the nonmedical use of prescription drugs is working, much more work is needed to improve the way we prevent and treat substance use disorders.”
While the official take may be that the numbers are positive because there was only a 1 percent increase in prescription drug overdose deaths – substances that have been the source of a growing and deadly problem among Americans at increasing rates over the past 10 years – the huge leap in heroin overdose deaths suggests that though people aren’t abusing prescription painkillers as frequently, many are still addicted to opiates.
Attorney General Eric Holder said: “These troubling statistics illustrate a grim reality: that drug, and particularly opioid abuse, represents a growing public health crisis.”
Painkillers were the drugs of choice for many Americans over the past decade. Liberal use of prescriptions and minimal followup care may have been initially to blame, but there were a number of contributing factors to the problem that continued to grow until it was quickly everyone’s problem. The medical community worked together with governmental agencies and law enforcement groups to determine what were the biggest gateway issues to the problem and set about closing those gates – and it has worked. Prescription painkillers are more efficiently regulated in their prescription and distribution, and very few addicts are able to maintain an opiate addiction through the use of pain medications alone.
However, this did not necessarily put everyone living with an active opiate painkiller addiction on the track to get treatment. Instead, many started using a far cheaper and more easily accessible drug: heroin. As a result, heroin overdose deaths have shot through the roof, and it’s clear that we must now look at how to better address this problem in order to help the Americans whose lives are still at risk.
There is no magic pill for addiction, nor is there any easy way to help those who are living with an active heroin addiction to get the help they need. But there are some things we can do to increase the likelihood that someone will survive an opiate addiction, no matter what the specifics of their drug of choice. Some options include:
- Increasing access to an opiate overdose drug called naloxone that can reverse the effects of overdose if used in time
- Increasing screening questions asked at emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, and by law enforcement that can help to identify those in need of opiate detox and treatment
- Increasing the number of drug courts that connect addicted offenders with treatment rather than jail time
- Increasing funding for detox clinics and addiction treatment programs for people in need that also provide long-term follow-up care and treatment for mental health issues
While Americans wait for government agencies to prioritize tax dollars for the purpose of treating those who are living with addiction, families are working to connect their addicted loved ones with treatment that works. The more intensive that treatment and the more directed to the specific needs of the individual person, the more likely it is that that treatment will serve to help the person create a new life in sobriety that lasts for the long-term.