Opioid Epidemic: Top Health Officials Say That Crisis Is Worsening
Last week, one of the country’s top public health officials announced that America’s drug and opioid epidemic is showing no signs of letting up.
Dr. Debra Houry, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
“It is one of the few public health problems that is getting worse instead of better.”
Houry and other health officials spoke at a Senate hearing, describing an addiction epidemic that is spiraling out of control.
Dr. Franic Collin, director of the National Institutes of Health, called for “all hands on deck.”
Representatives from four federal health agencies spoke direly about the opioid crisis before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., committee chairman:
“The opioid crisis is tearing our communities apart, tearing families apart, and posing an enormous challenge to health providers and law enforcement officials.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, over one million Americans abused prescription painkillers in 2016, an estimated 1 million used heroin, and more than 2 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription opioids or heroin.
Even more troubling is the continual rise in overdose deaths, particularly those related to illicit fentanyl, carfentanil, and other powerful synthetic drugs. Officials also noted that over 300,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose since the turn of the century, and new estimates from the CDC suggest that more than 64,000 people died in 2016 from an overdose of drugs or alcohol.
At the hearing, health officials also stated that federal agencies are undertaking several steps in an effort to deal with the crisis. These include new programs to improve treatment access, gather resources to increase availability and quality of long-term recovery, and focus on high-risk people such as pregnant women and prisoners.
Officials stressed, however, that more has to be done, especially in areas of prevention and the over-prescribing of opioids. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said that most people becoming addicted to opioids after receiving a prescription for a medical condition such as an injury or after surgery.
Indeed, the CDC estimates that 4 in 5 new heroin users first begin their habit after initially becoming addicted to prescription painkillers.
In November state officials will inform the committee about what they are doing, and what resources they need to fight the opioid epidemic.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology