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President Trump is Calling the Opioid Epidemic a “Public Health Emergency.” Will It Make a Difference?
President Donald Trump has announced that America’s opioid epidemic has risen to the level of a “public health emergency.” But will Trump’s plan be enough to make a dent in the crisis? Bentley University Professor Miriam Boeri, who is researching the opioid crisis in Boston and Atlanta, discusses what’s causing the opioid epidemic and how to address it.
Will President Trump’s announcement have a big impact?
President’s Trump’s move to call the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency” is a small step in the right direction but it’s not enough. To make an impact on this crisis, we need more funding and new strategies to treat opioid addiction holistically and address the pain behind the addiction.
What I hear from the opioid users I meet in my research is, “What we’re doing isn’t working.” What they mean is that it is not working for them. What they see is that many are relapsing, even after weeks months or years of being “clean” and going to meetings.
What my research shows is that we need programs to help people obtain the skills to find a job, repair broken families, and put their lives back together after detox and treatment. This will take resources.
What is causing the opioid epidemic?
Most of the people I meet who use opioids started because they had physical pain, but they also have some kind of emotional or social pain as well. When I speak with people who are dependent on opioids, they say they use the drugs to make the pain go away. Weaning them off opioids and heroin and onto methadone or suboxone addresses the physical dependence, but not the emotional, psychological and social pain that is still there. That means they’re just going to relapse.
To have an opioid epidemic of this proportion means that there are underlying social issues impacting a large number of people in our society. I see hopelessness and alienation among the people I meet who have tried dozens of times to stop their addiction and yet relapse again and again even as they see their friends dying of overdoses. I see people who have lost a sense of belonging—and that takes more than methadone or suboxone to regain.
What should doctors be doing?
Many people I talk with who are now addicted to heroin started when they were prescribed pain pills, and they used them as prescribed until they could no longer obtain refills. Doctors who prescribe pain medication must warn their patients of how difficult it will be to stop, and they must help their patients wean off addictive pain medications. Without this help, many people who become dependent on pain pills and do not have access to prescription medication will try to buy it on the streets. This often leads them to buy heroin—a less expensive option. Methadone and suboxone are medical options for people who have difficulty with opioid withdrawal, and for some they might be a long-term solution. But for others, more strategies are needed.