The addiction crisis has inspired much discussion, focused primarily on the opioid epidemic, around the country over the past few years. And for good reason. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the United States is $78.5 billion annually, including healthcare costs, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
In 2018, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated America lost 128 lives to opioid overdose daily. Other studies note these numbers may be grossly underreported. And while we have been bombarded with headline after headline describing the tragic human cost of this public health crisis, other drugs such as methamphetamine and benzodiazepines have been rising behind the scenes. And did I mention alcohol still kills over 88,000 people a year? Obviously, this crisis is systemic, but instead of trying to find blame, all affected and interested parties should come together to solve this challenge. How are we seeking solutions?
Sometimes, solutions to problems can be solved through partnerships and relationships rather than programs. In the case of our addiction crisis, we need both. Recovery from addiction faces greater chances for success when we combine quality programming (treatment, housing, life skills training) and peer support. Peer support specialists have lived experience; a unique connection exists which cannot be replicated by many credentialed professionals. Peer support supplements professionals’ expertise in a truly amazing way. Arkansas is leading the effort to blend clinical and non-clinical services in a treatment setting with the aid of peers.
Many times, when a person suffering from addiction reaches out for help, it feels like waking up in a foreign country. The individuals feel scared and don’t know what to do. Neither does the family. A peer support specialist knows the language of recovery and how to navigate the entire recovery continuum, connecting newcomers to valuable resources. Simply put, they help when others cannot. We must increase access to treatment and recovery services by removing many unnecessary barriers.
With respect to treating an opioid use disorder, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the most effective method, although it is still largely misunderstood. Close-minded attitudes prevent successful treatment, and something must change in order to save lives during this addiction crisis. Much can be said regarding alcohol and drugs being ever-present killers, but there are clear, evidence-based initiatives in place to help sufferers of opioid use disorder (OUD).
No life is too far gone. It’s time to help. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website, “Medicated-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the use of FDA-approved medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a ‘whole-patient’ approach to the treatment of substance use disorders and addiction.” If you’re on the fence about MAT, it is time to reconsider. Our dead deserve that at least. Most importantly, our living who still suffer deserve it, too.
It’s hard to imagine, but the crisis is worse than we originally thought. Hope is alive, but there is a long way to go. We have witnessed men and women come back from the depths of hell to lead productive and purposeful lives. We all deserve a second chance. Peer recovery supports, medications, and other innovative approaches will help close the massive treatment gap in this country.
We cannot give up. It took six years of seeking help, struggling desperately to figure out what worked for me, before I really turned my life around. That was a little over 12 years ago. Facing despair and hopelessness, people who never gave up helped me put together a beautiful life. Like others, I suffered severe consequences. I survived an overdose, wrecked many relationships, struggled to obtain employment, faced trouble with law enforcement, and left many people who loved me feeling hopeless. I was considered by some a throwaway, a society reject.
Today, I get to be a college graduate and current doctoral student, a husband, a grateful daddy, a homeowner, a meaningful contributor to my community, and a recovery advocate. All because people didn’t give up on me – and were there when I reached out for help. Even when it was the 10th time. I encourage you to get involved by downloading the NARCANsas application for useful information about all things recovery, including how to reverse an overdose.
We can – and we will – do better. If we’re ever going to end this public health crisis, the people making decisions about addiction prevention and treatment must bring the recovery community to the table. All of us have the brainpower and energy to come up with viable solutions.
Christopher S. Dickie is the CEO at Natural State Recovery Centers and was appointed to the Arkansas Alcohol and Drug Abuse Coordinating Council by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.