Life expectancy in the United States has declined for the second year in a row according to the latest study from the Center for Disease Control. When this news broke last year it hit like a bombshell and then was forgotten by most. While two data points do not make a trend, there are some very disturbing signals in the data underlying this report. The ravages of persistent, multi-generational poverty are a major contributor and poverty is in turn a contributing cause to the increasing number of deaths resulting from opioid overdoses. While addiction does not respect a person’s income level, the data shows that opioid overdoses have reached epidemic levels in poor regions throughout the country. At least 90 Americans die every day from overdoses of prescription opioids, fentanyl, and heroin. These deaths strike people in every age group, income level, geographic region, and level of educational attainment. For every death, there are three more people hospitalized, 3.5 emergency room visits, and 350 people reported misusing or abusing prescription pain relievers.
Developing a coherent strategy to treat addiction is a major component to solving the public health crisis. The solution will require a high level of public-private coordination. Having witnessed firsthand the devastating effect that opioid addiction can have on a community, Verus is making a major commitment to lend our combined talents to a growing network of concerned professionals around the country who are working on solutions.
The most important thing you can do to help is to give of your time to help build and sustain a coalition of local stakeholders, including government officials, educators, healthcare professionals, religious leaders, business people, and – most importantly – current and recovering opioid users. No one is more informed of the holes in our healthcare and law enforcement systems than people struggling with addiction, so their input on solutions will prove to be invaluable. Through such a coalition, advocate for strategies to prevent overdose deaths and maximize opportunities for successful addiction recovery.
Those strategies should include:
- Increased access to naloxone for first responders.
- Increased programs for pain management, treatment, and support.
- Establish peer recovery support programs. Recovery is a lifelong process requiring a robust support network.
- Organize drug takeback and disposal programs to prevent unused prescription meds from making their way to street dealers.
- Establish syringe exchange programs and safe use spaces.
- Establish education programs to prevent substance abuse, delivered through schools and other community agencies and organizations.
- Promote the adoption of fair chance hiring practices among local businesses. Too many recovering addicts slide back into using because their pasts are held against them and access to stable employment is denied to them.