Though the opioid crisis has been increasingly ominous, new action from the government may lead to a decline in drug overdoses.
In 2017 alone, over 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, and approximately ¾ of those deaths involved opioids. Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, announced that the government will begin increasing aid for mothers struggling with substance abuse and babies who are born dependent on drugs thanks to a bipartisan-supported package of bills. Azar said that this would be the first program “specifically devoted to helping address the effects the opioid crisis is having on mothers and infants.”
The HHS is disbursing over $1 billion in grants to help combat opioid addiction through treatment, community health centers, and recovery services. Grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also been given to enhance data gathering and and prevention.
This federal pilot program will be the first of its kind and will be run through Medicare’s innovation office, which was created to discover new ways to provide care under Obamacare. By providing more funds toward research and treatment of opioid addiction, the crisis will hopefully slow down.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome, the painful condition that infants born with drug dependence experience, has quadrupled since the opioid epidemic has erupted. In 2000, 1.19 cases occurred per 1,000 hospital births, and in 2012, that number rose to 5.63 cases per 1,000 hospital births according to a study by Vanderbilt University researchers. The study also confirmed that NAS also occurs disproportionately in suburban areas, and researchers are hopeful about providing better outcomes for affected infants since discovering that treating them with the drug buprenorphine proves to be a more promising therapeutic alternative to the widely used drug morphine.
Another positive sign regarding the epidemic is that there was a modest drop of 2.8 percent in the number of deaths from overdoses from late 2017 to early 2018, which could signal that the crisis is on its way out — slowly but surely. The number of people receiving buprenorphine and naltrexone for treatment of opioid dependence has dramatically increased.
Azar has stated that one important thing to remember to provide proper treatment is that addiction is as a disease and not a moral failing.
"They are not individuals who are seeking out to be drug addicts or are seeking out a high. They are individuals who are getting trapped in a cycle of addiction," said Azar.
Though there is still room for significant improvement, these initiatives are a sign that the tide is beginning to turn.
“Plateauing at such a high level is hardly an opportunity to declare victory. But the concerted efforts of communities across America are beginning to turn the tide,” said Azar.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.