Most people use substances—coffee, tea, wine, and more. It is a very natural and human thing to do. But certain substances, like opioids, can lead to overuse, harm, and death. This is such a significant problem that every year over 100,000 people die from a drug overdose and it’s become a major public health concern.
- Over the last twenty years, deaths from drug overdoses quadrupled, and in 2008, overtook deaths from motor vehicle crashes.
- Access to opioids dramatically increased in the 1990s largely due to legally prescribed oxycontin, which flourished due to deception, manipulation, exploitation, and fraud, resulting in a 300% increase in drug overdose deaths from 1999 to 2018.
Our society has relied too heavily on incarceration as a response to substance use.
- Over the last 40 years, the U.S. incarceration rate tripled to the highest of any country in the world and five times the global average.
- Much of this increase was driven by the war on drugs, as arrests for drug possession tripled.
- These laws were created to reinforce and ultimately increase racial disparities. Despite the fact that white Americans and people of color use drugs at approximately the same rate, arrest rates for drug possession are at least more than twice as high for Black people than White people.
There are effective, evidence-based solutions for people whose lives have been shattered by substance use, but these solutions are not reaching those who need them.
Addiction is a treatable, chronic disease. It is NOT a moral failing.
Most people use substances, but a variety of factors can lead to addiction. While initial use may be a voluntary choice, extended use can change brain chemistry, effecting the natural chemicals that enable basic life functions. This causes the brain to become dependent on drugs and without them, a person with an addiction will go into withdrawal. This can be physically and psychologically unbearable as well as dangerous. At this point, substance use disorder is no more a voluntary choice than many other chronic illnesses like diabetes or heart disease that are brought on by a combination of human behavior and biology.
Too many people cannot get treatment.
Medication for addiction treatment (MAT), such as buprenorphine, is proven to help patients dealing with substance use disorder, particularly opioids.
- MAT has proven effective at lowering illicit opioid usage, reducing hospital emergency room visits, and improving adherence to drug addiction treatment programs.
- But despite evidence that MAT is an effective and overall cost-saving method for treating opioid use disorder, 60-80% of people who use opioids do not have access to these medications.
Discrimination and stigma create missed opportunities for treatment.
- Substance use disorder is split off from the rest of medicine, so the average doctor does not treat it the way they would treat any other chronic condition.
- Across the medical profession and most sectors of society, people with substance use disorder are treated like their condition is a personal failing rather than a disease.
Federal policies make it less likely that people will get treatment.
- Methadone, a medication that treats opioid addiction, cannot be prescribed at all for opioid addiction in regular medical settings, but only in special methadone clinics.
- This restriction is more stringent than restrictions on the very opioids that cause addiction.
The time to solve this problem is now.
This public health crisis is not fading away.
- Much of the increase in overdose deaths is due to opioids – from prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl.
- In California, there has also been an enormous increase in methamphetamine overdoses jumping from 233 deaths in 1999 to over 2,000 in 2018.
- The economic and societal costs are staggering. A 2019 study estimates that over a three year period, opioids cost the economy $631 billion in healthcare expenses, lost productivity, lost life time earnings, and criminal justice system expenses.