What the Rise in Opioid Overdoses Means for Substance Abuse Treatment

Drug overdose deaths due to opioid abuse have reached epidemic proportions in the United States. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day. Opioid abuse has contributed to more than half a million deaths between 2000 and 2015. During that same period, the annual number of opioid overdose deaths has quadrupled. The rise in overdoses emphasizes the need for effective and accessible substance abuse treatment in addition to new methods of rehabilitation.

Preventing Overdose Deaths

In response to the epidemic, the CDC has outlined steps to prevent opioid overdose deaths. These include improving the prescribing procedures for these drugs and work with state and local public health agencies, medical examiners and coroners, and law enforcement to improve early identification of trends in use. In addition, they note the need for improved access to evidence-based substance abuse treatment and expanded access to and use of naloxone (a drug that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose).

Improving Access to Medications

While medication-assisted treatment is currently the most effective path to healing for those who are addicted to opioids, data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that fewer than a third of those that could benefit from this type of treatment have access to it. Only one half of substance abuse programs offer medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone that help manage withdrawal symptoms and maintain abstinence from use. These medications are associated with an increased likelihood of remaining in treatment and lower the overall risk of death from overdose.

Safe withdrawal from opioids can be achieved through outpatient or inpatient therapy. Treatment needs vary by individual and should take psychiatric problems, access to social support, and polydrug abuse into account. Those suffering from opioid addiction can benefit from cognitive behavioral psychotherapies in addition to standard drug counseling. As such, it is imperative that substance abuse treatment centers provide access to the right combinations of medication and therapy to treat those suffering from opioid addiction.

Conducting Ongoing Research

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has focused substance abuse treatment research on developing new medications and technologies to treat opioid abuse. This includes researching improved treatments that can prevent and/or reverse overdose. As a result, many treatment facilities now provide training for administration of Naloxone, which can revive a person who has overdosed.

Expanding access to critical medication programs and limiting access to prescription opioids will have a dramatic positive impact on the opioid epidemic. If you or a loved one is experiencing substance abuse, seek treatment right away to prevent the risk of an overdose.