Vox.com recently reported that there were 52,404 deaths from drug overdoses in 2015. A separate report in the Washington Post noted that an estimated 33,000 deaths were related to opioids. Those two articles caught my attention because the US Surgeon General’s Report on Addiction had those numbers pegged at 47,055 and 28,647, respectively, in 2014. In just one year, overdose deaths were up over 10%, with virtually the entire increase attributable soley to opioids.
According to federal data, 89% of people who meet the criteria for alcohol and drug use disorder don’t get treated. Some are in denial; others say it’s too inconvenient; many don’t even know that the majority of their treatment can be covered by insurance. Or can it?
Therein lies another aspect of the problem. In theory and by the letter of the law, it’s supposed to work that way. For its part, Medicaid uses about 25% of its budget for drug addiction treatment, with $7.9 billion allotted for this purpose in 2014. However, private insurance company pushback in the form of denial of claims and an ever-growing tidal wave of bureaucratic paperwork has ma
de collecting payments an imposing nightmare for most addiction treatment centers. Moreover, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which was designed to ensure fair treatment and coverage of addiction as a disease, like other chronic medical diseases, is routinely ignored without repercussions. No one is out there policing insurance companies to follow the letter of the law. While I generally detest litigation, this purposeful lack of coverage is ripe for a class action lawsuit.
Finally, doctors are only now beginning to fully comprehend the consequences of over-prescribing. Purdue Pharma, in particular, was legally pushing Oxycontin on doctors almost as aggressively as a street-corner thug hustling illicit drugs, and making billions of dollars in the process. It’s taken a long time for the medical community to understand just how addictive opioids actually are.
President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have vowed to take this fight to the streets because, while doctors around the country have begun minimizing the legal prescription of opioids, the slack is being taken up by sophisticated drug cartels. These cartels see a huge market opportunity in the addicts now being deprived of legitimate means to get their fix. Cheap black tar heroin, fentanyl and carfentanyl (strong enough to take down an elephant) are being hawked within our communities. Trump believes that by building a wall and doubling down on the war on drugs he can make a difference. This remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, we don’t have the luxury of time. The Surgeon General’s report indicated that it could take as long as eight to nine years after an addict formally seeks help for recovery to take hold. Many opioid addicts will be dead long before that time frame ends. Recovering addicts need to better arm themselves against the temptations out there and take measures to distance themselves from them. A 10% yearly increase in overdose deaths is chilling and intolerable; a 20% increase in opioid deaths is completely unacceptable.
This is scary stuff. However, the more we understand destructive power of these drugs, the better chance we have to help people maintain their recovery and escape becoming a statistic.
That’s why we’re investing so heavily in the future here at InRecovery Magazine and through our sister companies, Kipu Systems and PingMD. We intend to develop a Recovery Bound program. Recovery Bound picks up where treatment leaves off. It’s all part of the recovery continuum.
Typically, the first year of sobriety is most tenuous; therefore, the treatment is most intensive during this phase. When so much emotional and physical capital is spent getting clean, it’s critical that there is help to maintain it. Years two through five pose a different set of challenges. While addicts can breathe a bit easier, the triggers and temptations are still there. Systems and supports that safeguard recovery during this phase are important. We’ll be sharing more about Recovery Bound as we develop fresh new methods to support and improve the face of long-term recovery.