If you live in Southeastern Pennsylvania or New Jersey and watch television, you will see regular commercials on the opioid crisis by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He asks us all to raise our voices in order to mitigate the deaths that have occurred due to drug overdoses.
We hear much about issues like terrorism, but this epidemic has taken the lives of over 64,000 Americans, more lives than any terrorist attack in the world. It is a crisis of epic proportions and we need to find ways to address this it.
Some causes of opioid addiction can be genetic, biological, psychological or environmental in nature:
- If you have significant addiction in your family, you are more likely to become an addict.
- Often pain treatment with prescription opioids creates an ever-growing need for the drug.
- If you have psychological issues, you are more likely to turn to these drugs to alleviate the symptoms of mental stress.
- As we know, adverse child events (ACEs) of poverty, trauma, violence in our homes and communities, and other environmental factors can contribute to drug addiction.
Neuroscience tells us…
In layman’s terms, opioid addiction is extremely pleasurable to the brain. What begins as a source of alleviating pain can prompt a pleasure response in the brain which makes the drug all the more desirable to take.
Taking opioids has a cumulative effect on the brain; that is, an increasing need for higher doses to create the same pleasurable affect. This effect results in a drive to increase the dosage and frequency of use of the drug.
The power of addiction is so difficult for the user and family, as it often appears there is little hope for change.
Those identified as addicted experience and re-experience all kinds of treatment and still often return to their drug of choice (or a substitute that has the same impact). It is a vicious struggle and very unforgiving cycle that claims lives and devastates families.
Additionally, opioid addiction is not isolated to any particular race, socio-economic class, age, culture, religion or most any other demographic. There is no predictable scenario, and this unpredictability creates challenges for both treatment and prevention.
These issues, as if not enough, make this crisis problematic to deal with. However, we also have under-staffed and over-populated treatment programs. Despite the shortage of staffing and resources to provide the required length of treatment, the numbers of those needing treatment continue to rise. For many cities, counties and states, the opioid crisis is spreading with reckless abandon—as an epidemic would.
For this crisis to be controlled we would need:
- A substantial collaborative effort from medical, therapeutic, addictions, social work and other professional staff to provide an interdisciplinary approach to drug addiction prevention and care
- To help families provide safer environments for their children
- Communities to be more focused and resilient about this issue, and
- A strong prevention model of trauma-informed care for schools, clinics, early childhood centers and other community environments where children are present.
I see little resolution to this crisis until we can create a dialogue in which we can agree on a more comprehensive and consistent approach which includes the therapeutic environment and new ideas for treatment and prevention.
It is one thing to say we have a mounting, life-dominating crisis, but it is quite another to collaborate to resolve it through more extensive research, quality treatment, and innovative ways.
None of us have all the answers, but we do know that we will need to make significant changes in how we approach this crisis, or it will continue to ravage our children, adults, and their families.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO