According to recently shocking stats, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day. On top of hard drugs like heroin – this includes many prescription drugs such as morphine, codeine and tramadol.
The Trump administration reacted to the news by declaring it a national emergency, however initially responded with suggestions of punitive action including lengthening prison sentences for addicts. The president has since gone back on this decision, and has stated that further action will be taken – but what will this action be?
Right now the most common treatment for opioid addicts is the prescription of Naxalone. There have been discussions that making this drug more accessible could help to reduce the rate of fatal overdoses. This could involve equipping more distribution centres with the drug so that it can be more easily accessed when someone has an overdose. There has even been discussion of making Naxalone an over-the-counter drug. Because of risks associated with this drug and the fact that it is most commonly injected (although intranasal Naxalone is an option), there are clear barriers in the way of getting this drug FDA-approved any time soon.
There are other drug treatments out there that could be the way forward. Ibogaine is a similar drug for eliminating the opioid high and there are already a number of ibogaine detox experiences out there. Promoting the use of this alternative medicine could be another way of reducing opioid-related deaths.
Of course, the cause of opioid addiction also has to be reduced. One simple reason that there are so many addicts could be the fact that it’s easier to get high than it is to get help. In order to combat cravings of addicts, small doses of heroin and other opioid-based painkillers are used. The likes of Naxalone and Ibogaine should be easier to obtain instead of fighting opioids with opioids. However this isn’t the case and doctors regularly recommend the likes of morphine first.
Putting some restriction on this could stop many opioid addicts from continuing to get their fix. Of course, this won’t stop people getting illegally, but getting it illegally is harder.
Stopping the illicit trade of heroin is thought to be near impossible. The likes of US attorney Jeff Sessions have been campaigning to put Trump’s wall into place in the hope that stricter border control will stop the flow of drugs into America. However, it is not expected to have much of a difference based on previous border control measures.
People will continue to always take illegal drugs. However promoting more of a culture around natural highs could encourage less people to participate. This would entail rebuilding communities from the ground up and would be a long process, however there are instances where it has worked.
Iceland previously had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, but saw major adolescent falls in drug consumption between 1997 and 2012. This was due to the introduction of government funded rehabilitation centres for teen addicts, which encouraged teenagers to replace negative addictions with positive ones. Teenagers at these treatment centres were offered the chance to learn anything they desired whether it be dance, martial arts, hip hop or art. This offered a natural high, which displaced the need to turn to drugs.
Of course, Iceland is a very different country to the US – both in population and social structure – so it’s uncertain whether such a scheme would have as positive an effect. However, were it to work it would stop addiction early and stamp out the problem at its roots. It could even work on older adults. As shown when US soldiers returned from the Vietnam War, many who had been addicts were able to go back to life as normal because they weren’t in that negative environment any more.
Funding is one of the biggest problems – it was suggested that cuts would be made in this sector but now that opioid abuse has been moved to a national emergency, it seems unlikely that this will happen. The US has decide whether to put all it’s spending into preventative action or treatment to have any real impact on the matter.