The opioid epidemic has been declared a public health emergency, but if it were declared a national state of emergency, then the federal government would be able to apply more resources and money where needed, such as increasing funding for addiction education, treatment, and antidotes for opioid overdoses, especially in the states that are suffering the highest rates of opioid fatalities.
A state of emergency could help counteract the U.S. opioid epidemic by:
- Removing the stigma of addiction: The prevailing approach to drug-related crime is to punish the perpetrators with jail sentences, instead of sentencing them to mandatory opioid addiction treatment. Declaring a state of emergency would allow states to facilitate treatment for nonviolent drug offenders, decreasing both the rate of addiction and the stigmatizing punitive attitude towards substance use disorders. In addition, the United States would save billions of dollars in incarceration costs.
- Increasing access to Naloxone: This important drug can not only block the effects of opioids, it can reverse an opioid overdose while it is happening. It is crucial that EMTs and law enforcement officials have easy access to and sufficient supplies of Naloxone, not only for opiate-addicted individuals, but for the first responders, who are at risk of accidental ingestion due to contact with extremely potent powdered forms of opiate drugs like carfentanil. Many people feel naloxone should be made available without a prescription, and that supplies should be increased nationwide, increasing access for both first responders and the families of individuals suffering from opiate addiction.
- Increasing funding for addiction treatment: Far too many Americans suffering from an opiate addiction avoid treatment due to financial concerns. A national state of emergency would allow for increased low and no-cost addiction treatment options, as well as grants that could be won by qualified patients.
- Increased awareness and support of Medication-Assisted Treatment- The gold standard for opiate addiction treatment allows patients to gradually, safely, comfortably, and comprehensively defeat their dependency on opioids through medications to treat opiate withdrawal combined with counseling and other non-pharmacological treatment interventions. This integrated approach is known as Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Unfortunately, some people misunderstand MAT, viewing it as replacing one addiction with another. A national state of emergency could lead to increased awareness of MAT’s effectiveness by requiring doctors working in federal healthcare settings to provide these medications for the treatment of opioid addiction.
Addictions.com believes getting more Americans into treatment is vital if we are to reverse the rising rates of opiate-related overdose fatalities. Although opioid addiction has increased by 493% between 2010 and 2016, only about ten percent of people with opioid use disorder receive treatment. This treatment gap is partly caused by people’s fear of suffering the painful and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms caused by opiate detox. Medications such as buprenorphine and methadone can safely block these symptoms while allowing patients to resume normal, healthy functioning, and to attend to the psychological and behavioral work done in counseling.