August 24, 2016

Deadlier than Ever Before: Here’s How the Federal Government is Fighting Back Against the Opioid Epidemic

Deadlier than Ever Before:
Here’s How the Federal Government is Fighting Back Against the Opioid Epidemic

One of the federal government’s important roles is to take on our county’s most pressing issues and respond with solutions on a national scale. Responsible for killing nearly 50,000 people in 2014 alone, the opioid epidemic is clearly a crisis our country needs a sweeping and effective response to overcome. What tools does the federal government have in its pocket that can combat the opioid epidemic, and how can we be sure that they’ll work?

Where national agencies can alter their policies to support opioid addiction treatment and prevention, they are doing so. In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for doctors prescribing opioids to limit the circumstances, quantity and duration of any prescriptions they give to patients. Not only should this make it harder for someone using opioids for medical purposes to abuse them, restricting the flow of opioid-based medications into our communities should also decrease the quantity of these pills that are available for sale on the streets.

Shocking many who have grown accustomed to party-line gridlock, Congress passed a new bill to increase resource allocation to emergency departments and treatment providers, strengthening our substance abuse prevention and intervention methods in broad strokes across the country. As described in the bill, addiction treatment and substance abuse education providers, especially those combating opioid-based medication and heroin abuse, will have greater ability to prevent abuse and more access to enhanced education tools as well as the overdose reversal drug, Naloxone. It is not an embellishment to conclude that these interventions would save lives.

Congress’ resolution to meet this ongoing public health crisis full on will be tested, though, when they return from their summer recess in September and must work together to allocate funding to the admittedly costly bill. Advocates of reform instigated at a federal level hope that the legislators’ commitment to preventing unnecessary deaths from opioid abuse continue despite the challenges of working across the aisle to identify government priorities through funding. Without full funding, the legislation is useless, unable to be implemented.

Thanks in part to the amount of attention the opioid epidemic has drawn on the national stage, many states are taking the crisis into their own hands. For example, this summer Texas became one of the first states to partner with pharmacies to make Naloxone, an anti-overdose drug capable of reversing an overdose, available to consumers over-the-counter, without a prescription. This move will allow ordinary residents to have Naloxone on hand in the event that a loved one overdoses, biding time until emergency medical services can be brought to the scene.

Although many programs intended to curb the opioid epidemic are spearheaded at the federal level, only a consolidated effort between crisis intervention and addiction treatment teams on a local level combined with wide-scale funding with structural support provided at the federal level will be able to meet and stomp out the opioid epidemic our country is currently experiencing.

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