If you really want to know whether you’re keeping ahead of something, you look. You may also measure.
When it comes to the nation’s opioid epidemic, one measurement tells you all you need to know:
“Blue Cross and Blue Shield,” says one report, “recorded a 493 percent increase in people diagnosed with opioid use disorders from 2010 through 2016. At the same time, there was only a 65 percent increase in the number of people using medication-assisted treatment.
“It’s easier to get high than to get help for addiction.”
Indeed, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, “Only about 10 percent of people with a substance use disorder receive any type of specialty treatment.”
As we heard in earnest in the recent presidential election cycle – particularly from our friends in hard-hit early-voting state New Hampshire – opioids have become a national emergency. “By 2015,” says one report, “opioid overdose deaths totaled more than 33,000 – close to two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths.”
What started as a family of painkillers has turned into killers.
Augusta and Georgia haven’t been immune. Not in any way, shape or form.
“It is a bad situation,” reports Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen. “People just don’t realize what (opioids) can do.”
Bowen estimates his office now sees some five opioid deaths a month.
Such cases, as well as all other suspicious, unattended or unnatural deaths are no doubt swamping the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s ability to investigate – including performing toxicology results that are often central to deaths that involve crimes.
Credit the legislature and Gov. Nathan Deal, though, for taking bold action in the past year or so.
“In a request to the Georgia Pharmacy Board,” the governor’s office announced last December, “Deal asked that Naloxone, an emergency drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, be removed from the dangerous drug list and rescheduled as a Schedule V exempt drug. The Georgia Board of Pharmacy approved the emergency rule to remove Naloxone. At the same time, Deal directed the Department of Public Health to issue a standing order to allow Naloxone to be dispensed over-the-counter by pharmacists across the state.”
Then, this spring, Deal signed several bills the legislature passed to deal with the epidemic. One bill codified making Naloxone more readily available. Another moved the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program from the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency to the Department of Public Health – which recognizes the problem is a health problem as much or more than a law enforcement problem.
We applaud our state leaders for responding boldly to what is a growing societal problem.
From chronic pain sufferers to “recreational” users to those medicating themselves because of a lack of meaning in their lives, opioid abuse has essentially become Public Enemy No. 1. We’ve heard of cases in which government benefits, such as food stamps, have even been sold on the black market to get money for opioids.
It’s one more reason to secure our borders, considering that many such drugs from China and elsewhere are coming in illegally.
Hang on tight. This is just beginning.
And it has come home.