In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control found that there were 72,000 overdose deaths among Americans in 2017, a 10 percent increase over 2016. This number is more than all the deaths caused by car accidents, gun deaths, and deaths caused by HIV/AIDS.
In New Jersey, the numbers were even worse. There was a 27 percent increase in rates of overdose deaths across the state in 2017 compared to 2016 – more than 2.5 times the national average. While many people fear that these numbers will only worsen in coming years, others say that there is hope for the future. Here’s why.
Other states experienced a decline in overdose deaths in 2017 vs 2016.
In New England, rates of overdose deaths have been horrifyingly high for years. Because the off-white powdered version of heroin is more common on the East Coast and in the Northeast, it was easier to mix in fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic drug that can be deadly on contact. Because they were hit harder and earlier than the rest of the country, they have had longer to implement and experiment with different responses, and those responses are working, which gives hope to New Jersey.
Stigma is beginning to lift. For decades, public perception has been that an addiction disorder is something to be ashamed of, that it meant that the individual was deeply and morally flawed and/or that the family was a “bad family.” As a result, many who needed help – especially those who developed an addiction after taking painkillers for pain management – did not seek help when they realized they had a problem. Though stigma still exists today, there is an ongoing push by the medical community, government agencies, and grassroots organizations to spread the word that if you have an addiction or if your loved one is struggling, treatment is necessary right away.
More money is being invested into remedying the problem. There is a $1 billion federal grant program that is available to states that are being hit hard by the opioid epidemic, money that is expected to be invested in local efforts to save lives from overdose, decrease the number of new addiction cases, and help families that are wrestling with addiction to connect with treatment services.
Court systems are recognizing that addiction is a medical disorder and not a criminal activity. For nonviolent drug offenders, there are more and more drug court options available, an avenue to recovery that can help the individual avoid jail time while also getting the treatment and support they need to get and stay sober. Some states have even made medical addiction treatment available in prisons for inmates who do not qualify for drug court and seen lowered rates of overdose and recidivism as a result.
Rates of opiate painkiller prescriptions are going down. By some reports, the rates of painkiller prescriptions handed out by doctors has dropped by 22 percent in the US between 2013 and 2017. Because this is designed to stop new cases of opiate addiction developing, it will likely contribute to lower rates of overdose in coming years.
Treatment options and access to treatment is changing. For those who are already grappling with addiction, there has been a strong push across the country to connect people in need with effective drug addiction treatment and to improve access to treatment as well as increase the number of treatment options available.
Dan Ciccarone studies heroin markets and is a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He says: “Because it’s a drug epidemic as opposed to an infectious disease epidemic like Zika, the response is slower. Because of the forces of stigma, the population is reluctant to seek care. I wouldn’t expect a rapid downturn; I would expect a slow, smooth downturn.”
If your loved one is living with an active opioid addiction in New Jersey, do not wait to connect them with treatment services that can reduce the risk of drug overdose death and increase the chance of building a balanced and healthy new life in recovery. Are you ready to reach out and get started?