We are recognizing National Prevention Week, an annual health observance dedicated to increasing the awareness of. and action around, mental health and substance use disorders. Each year different themes are included to focus on major substance use and mental health topics. One of them is Preventing Prescription and opioid misuse. Thinking about this theme, let’s take a deeper look into the opioid epidemic.
The United States has been thrust into an opioid epidemic, affecting the nation’s public health as well as social and economic welfare. While it may be hard to believe, opioid misuse has been around for some time, with overdose death rates quadrupling since 1999. Opioids, which include prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl, killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, with nearly half of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 91 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose. The economic burden of opioid misuse in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, which includes the cost of healthcare, lost productivity, treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
What is an opioid?
The word opioid is a combination of “opium,” and the ending “oid” is the Greek word for “resembling.” Together the word means “opium-like”. Originating in the 1950s, opioid describes any substance, natural or human-made, that has similar biochemical actions to the active substance in the opium poppy. There are actually many types of opioids on the market:
- Natural opioids being morphine and codeine.
- Semi-synthetic opioids, meaning they began with the poppy and chemical adjustments were made, including hydrocodone and oxycodone.
- Other opioids include lab-made, designed to act like morphine, such as fentanyl and methadone.
Our body naturally makes opioids in the form of small proteins to fight pain, such as endorphins.
How do opioids work?
Opioids act in our nervous system, where we feel pain, binding to proteins known as opioid receptors. Each type of opioid has its strength for alleviating pain and its resiliency once it binds. Opioids not only dull pain but also produce pleasurable feelings. The effects of the drug depend on the location of the receptor in the nervous system, such as the brain or the spinal cord.
Why are opioids addictive?
While many painkillers can become addictive, such as acetaminophen, opioids are addictive because of the way they alleviate pain. Because opioids bind to receptors and reduce pain and produce a feeling of pleasure, they lead to a desire for more. After consistent exposure to the drug, the brain becomes less responsive, meaning a person will need a higher dosage to achieve the effect.
How can we combat the epidemic?
In September, the CDC announced an additional $28.6 million in funding for 44 states to support their efforts in responding to the opioid overdose epidemic. The focus of the funding is to strengthen prevention efforts and better track overdoses and is in addition to the $12 million released in July to support prevention activities.
The expanded funding is part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) five-point strategy to fight the opioid epidemic by:
- Improving access to prevention, treatment, and recovery services, including the full range of medication-assisted treatments
- Targeting the availability and distribution of overdose-reversing drugs
- Strengthening our understanding of the crisis through better public health data and reporting;
- Providing support for cutting-edge research on pain and addiction
- Advancing better practices for pain management
“One piece of HHS’s five-point strategy for combating the opioid crisis is improving our understanding of the epidemic through better public health data,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D. “The expansion of these CDC programs, made possible by legislation President Trump signed earlier this year, is an important piece of our commitment to helping states combat the scourge of opioid addiction and overdose.”
In addition to their five-point strategy, HHS has also announced they will promote evidence-based policies and best practices, as well as training for health professionals, technological investments, and support for prescription drug monitoring programs. States such as Florida, have declared the opioid epidemic a public health crisis and began passing stricter laws for illegal distribution and use. Florida lawmakers have also recently set aside additional funding for medications to help reduce opioid dependency.
Due to the strained mental health care system and a shortage of qualified treatment centers and trained healthcare providers, Florida lawmakers are continuing to lobby for additional treatment for addiction. According to the HHS, 90 percent of Americans struggling with addiction are not currently getting treatment. Lifeskills South Florida is aware of the opioid epidemic and the critical need for ethical treatment in Florida. We provide quality, evidence-based therapy to equip clients with the tools they need for sustained long-term recovery.
Klay Weaver, Lifeskills CEO says, “We understand that entering into treatment is one of the first steps in recovery, and people need additional help to manage the triggers that lead to addiction. At Lifeskills, we help people recognize those triggers and learn how to manage them so they can move toward successful functioning.”
We offer residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and transitional living accommodations for men and women ages 18 and over suffering mental health and substance use disorders. Our nationally certified and licensed professional staff focus on equipping clients with coping and self-care skills for reintegration back into life once out of treatment using five distinct tracks, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Chemical Dependency, Trauma/PTSD, and Cognitive Remediation.
Our comprehensive care program incorporates elements of mindfulness, meditation, certified yoga, and integrated primary care, where we teach nutrition, meal planning, and cooking with a certified nutritionist. Lifeskills holistic approach to treatment helps clients to move toward reintegration into normal daily functioning as they achieve their personal treatment goals.