Our country has a big problem. Drug overdoses and drug overdose deaths continue to rise at an alarming rate — yet there are nowhere near enough treatment facilities to help care for this population, should they want help.
It’s called the “treatment gap,” and right now, it appears to only be getting wider.
“When someone is asking — begging for help, we don’t have six months to give, we don’t have six weeks, we don’t have six days,” said one mayor.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services used International Overdose Awareness Day on Wednesday to announce $53 million in funding to 44 States, four tribes, and the District of Columbia to improve access to treatment for opioid use disorders, reduce opioid related deaths, and strengthen drug misuse prevention efforts.
But that’s nowhere near enough, according to federal health officials, families affected by the epidemic, drug treatment experts, and local officials across the nation who are struggling to find the resources to respond nearly every day to more calls for overdoses.
They’re calling on Congress for an additional $1.1 billion to support states efforts to save lives, raise awareness about opioid abuse and misuse, train first responders in the use of the life-saving drug Naloxone, and provide enough treatment facilities and beds for those ready to get help when they need it.
“That one evening, when we had 26 overdoses,” Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, West Virginia, told reporters in a conference call with the White House Tuesday. “We didn’t have enough beds available in the entire state if every person had come and said, ‘We want help.’ Most times what we find is that there is a six-month waiting period before someone can get in for treatment. When someone is asking — begging — for help, we don’t have six months to give, we don’t have six weeks, we don’t have six days. We should have no less than six hours to be able to place someone immediately into a treatment facility.”
Unfortunately, unless you have a lot of money — that is the scenario, according to Dr. Brad Reedy, owner and clinical director of Utah-based Evoke Therapy Programs, a wilderness therapy program for struggling youth.
[lz_bulleted_list title=”Medication-Assisted Treatment Grants” source=”http://www.hhs.gov”]States identified as having the highest rates of primary treatment admissions for heroin and prescription opioids per capita, and with the most dramatic recent increases for heroin and opioids, include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Rhode Island.[/lz_bulleted_list]
“You’re going to be fighting an uphill battle with insurance companies, and you’re going to have a limited capacity to be in a bed of any kind, with any kind of quality treatment, for any length of time,” Reedy said. That’s just the reality of the current situation.
“People who generally have money or fantastic insurance, retirement, or savings or who can take out a second mortgage, can afford it. We do scholarships and pro bono cases, but they [addicts] are still an underserved part of the population.”
Up to $11 million will go to the 11 states facing the greatest challenges in making sure more people get the access to treatment they need. The funding will also support:
Up to $11 million to 12 states for Prescription Drug Opioid Overdose Prevention Grants will support training on prevention of opioid overdose-related deaths as well as the purchase and distribution of Naloxone to first responders.
Up to $9 million to 21 states and four tribes for Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Prescription Drugs Grants should raise awareness about the dangers of sharing medications, address the risks of overprescribing, and bring prescription drug misuse prevention activities and education to schools, communities, parents, prescribers and their patients.
Up to $11.5 million in supplemental funding to 14 states for Prescription Drug Overdose: Prevention will address issues such as high overdose death rates in tribal communities, improve toxicology and drug screening, and enhance prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs).
$6 million to 13 states and DC for Prescription Drug Overdose: Data-Driven Prevention Initiative (DDPI) aims to advance and evaluate state-level prevention activities and improve data collection and analysis around opioid misuse and overdose.
$4.27 million in funds to 12 states for Enhanced State Surveillance of Opioid-Involved Morbidity and Mortality should better track fatal and nonfatal opioid-involved overdoses.
Free to all and not mentioned here is the suggested change in the language physicians, public health officials, and families might use when working with addicts. Reedy said the surgeon general’s recent request to all health care workers to talk about and treat addiction as a chronic illness — not as a moral failing — could really change the course of this entire conversation.
“Most of the people I deal with in addiction treatment, when you get down a couple of layers deep, it’s all fueled by shame. Most people are self-medicating: ‘I’m not lovable, I’m not good enough, I’m not OK, something is wrong with me.’ That’s an unsurvivable psychological climate to live and thrive in. Because there is such a strong theme of shame in the addictive person’s mind, that shift from moral failing and judgement to compassion is not only necessary to get the treatment started, but a huge contribution to the healing of addiction,” said Reedy.
For those who believe drug addicts create their own problems, break the law, and should be locked up, Williams said this isn’t a problem communities can arrest themselves out of. They realized that in Huntington two years ago.
“The level of addiction had reached a point that no matter how many people we would arrest, the drug dealers would continue to come because there was an insatiable appetite, and the epidemic had reached such proportions that there was always going to be a market,” said Williams.