The truth about America's growing opioid overdose crisis

By Brady GranierOpinionFOXBusiness

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Purdue Pharma this week agreed to pay $270 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the Oklahoma attorney general who accused the OxyContin maker of fueling an opioid abuse epidemic.

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Meanwhile, the United States just became the world leader in drug overdose deaths among wealthy countries, according to a new study.

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According to the researchers, overdose deaths in the United States have more than tripled over the past 20 years, driven largely by the opioid epidemic, as Americans are now dying at a rate four times higher than peer nations. This isn’t because of car accidents or terrorist attacks. It’s because of the growing addiction to opioids like heroin and fentanyl, and legally prescribed opioids such as OxyContin. Drugs other than those classified as opioids are also a contributing factor.

President Trump’s ‘stop opioid abuse’ initiative

When more than 70,000 Americans die from overdoses in one year, something must be done. Last year the Trump administration launched the Stop Opioid Abuse initiative. According to a recent White House press release, the Department of Justice has since shut down the country’s biggest Darknet drug distributor and seized enough fentanyl to kill more than 105,000 Americans.

The initiative as stated, although well intended, has its challenges. While these improvements are worth recognizing, more must be done to reverse this fatal and heartbreaking trend.

Seeking a well-balanced solution

Current statistics show that while the number of opioid prescriptions has decreased, they are written for longer periods of time. The numbers vary by state, but “duration of use is the strongest predictor of opioid use disorder and overdose,” according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The future of the opioid crisis lies in medication-assisted recovery. Reducing the number of accessible drugs from the streets and online black markets is important, but work needs to be done on the other side of the problem. Recovery and sobriety are key components of the opioid crisis and more research is needed on how to help people come out of opioid addiction without the attached stigma or blame.

Focus on getting rid of illegal fentanyl

The growing epidemic can be blamed in large part on the drug fentanyl. This synthetic opioid is used to treat severe pain but has an extremely high risk of addiction. It’s 80-100 times stronger than morphine and often mixed with street opioids to make them more potent. Many of those seeking street opioids don’t realize that what they are consuming may be cut with fentanyl.

The number of people addicted to this drug is increasing among all age groups, including teenagers and young adults. In fact, fentanyl overdose deaths for people aged 15-24 years have increased by around 94 percent every year between 2011-2016.

Improve recovery and treatment options for addiction

The more focus we have on treatment and recovery, the better. Any move by the FDA to support the advancement of non-opioid based pain medication is a positive shift.

The global market for medication-assisted treatment of substance use disorder (SUD) is valued at $4 billion and is projected to reach $7 billion by 2025. Research and development, encouraged by the FDA, along this vein should ultimately lead to new medications and improved formulations of what has been established to help those suffering.

Life-saving drugs like buprenorphine (which is used to treat dependence/addiction to opioids), naloxone (which reverses an opioid overdose), naltrexone (which is used to manage cravings and block opioids after detox) and others are already approved by the FDA and are used to combat opioid use disorder (OUD). But more are needed.

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The FDA is currently reviewing a higher-dose naloxone injectable for emergency treatment of opioid overdose due to fentanyl’s increased prevalence. We need this because many who unfortunately overdose oftentimes require more than one dose of naloxone to survive because of fentanyl’s high potency.

Outlook for the future

More education on these drugs and related addictions is needed for the public and within the medical field. Insurance companies need to be more open to covering treatment services without delay and industry professionals need to be better prepared and equipped to assist those that need help the moment they seek it.

The window of opportunity when one may want help can often close quickly before effective intervention can take place.

Brady Granier is the President, CEO and director of BioCorRx® Inc., an addiction solutions company offering a unique approach to the treatment of substance abuse addiction. The BioCorRx® Recovery Program is a non-addictive, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program consisting of an outpatient naltrexone implant procedure and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tailored specifically for the treatment of alcohol and opioid use disorders.