Addiction. By Kazarelth, via Creative Commons

Even as the Opioid Epidemic Rages, There’s Hope

There has been a steady rise in drug overdoses since the pandemic began in early March, according to the Hazelden-Betty Ford addiction treatment clinic. 

“We saw an 18 percent increase nationwide in overdoses in March, a 29 percent increase in April and a 42 percent increase in May,” said John Engebreth, who runs Minnesota Outpatient Services at Hazelden-Betty Ford. 

It’s being witnessed in Utah as well. Even more recent data has suggested that overdoses are on the rise, likely fueled by the increase in availability of the powerful drug Fentanyl – this is something being attributed to the disruption of the traditional opiate drug supply lines during the pandemic and the fact that 90% of Fentanyl is made right here in America. 

Data from Utah Naloxone, has documented a rising number of overdoses. In August, they saw 175 overdose reversals, an increase from the 125 they saw in July and 99 in June. 

Again, a steady rise. 

Even more alarming, US News & World Report recently reported that nearly 41% of adults surveyed this past summer “reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition” as a result of the stress from the pandemic and economic fallout.  

Why is this happening? 

It’s a well-known secret that America has been suffering through an opioid epidemic for decades, since the late 90’s. But the pandemic has super charged stress and anxiety acrossAmerica, which is making these overdose numbers spike so drastically. Sadly, it’s not surprising. 

Whether it’s coronavirus, financial woes, or just the yearning for normal human contact. COVID-19 has made life incredibly complicated, so there are a lot of stressors weighing on people right now. 

Relapsing or turning to drugs in a time of great stress – looking for that escape essentially – is something that is certainly relatable and very human

Dave Marlon

The other reason overdoses are increasing is because of the availability of Fentanyl nationwide. Many police departments report  finding that Fentanyl has been laced into non-opioid drugs, such as Xanax, MOLLY, ecstasy, and more. Usually you only find Fentanyl on its own or mixed with Heroin or other opioids such as Percocet or Vicodin – an often-deadly cocktail.

What can be done to help? 

What’s needed is TREATMENT, TREATMENT, and more TREATMENT. And also education. 

Detoxing from drugs is just the first step. Typically to treat an addiction, you have to treat the underlying mental illness that is driving the addiction. That means a comprehensive program that lasts much longer than 30 days. 

Here at CrossRoads, and throughout my career in addiction services, I’ve seen time and time again that the real hope, the real healing, is done through proper treatment of patients, including the correct mix of medication and counseling, lifestyle services, including diet, exercise, job, and this extends for months and months after detox. 

At the moment, the government is doing nearly nothing to help with the treatment of patients. One of the biggest obstacles to treatment is often that an addict can’t afford it, or it’s not covered by insurance. In this instance, a government program similar to Medicaid, or a similar state financed program, would be most helpful in terms of actually getting patients into rehab and one of those limited, thus coveted, open beds. 

I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve had a willing patient who was desperately seeking treatment, but by the time they managed to get the funds together -or got approved for Medicaid -they had either relapsed or their bed was gone. 

In instances like that, we are truly failing our fellow humans. 

Narcan & Education 

Narcan is very helpful in combating overdoses. Countless lives can be saved through training first responders, doctors, parents, etc. to successfully administer Narcan. 

Narcan can stop an overdose as it’s happening by counteracting the opioid in the patient’s system. 

Just as important (if not more important) is educating families on proper addiction treatment techniques. One of the simplest things often overlooked when it comes to how families treat someone suffering through an active addiction – that there is a stigma or mental failing attached to it. Addiction is a disease, just like cancer or congestive heart failure – it is not a mental failing or moral problem. 

Educating families in proper ways to treat, care for, and seek treatment for others going through addiction is crucial. Because of that,  CrossRoads has announced we will be holding a series of education seminars for families on addiction. We held our first on October 3rd, and will be announcing more in the coming weeks. 

Where does this leave us? 

Unfortunately, there’s no solving addiction, there’s only making it less harmful, unless we find our way into a Star Trek style utopian society. There will always be stress, anxiety, trauma, and mental illness. And there will likely always be drugs available in one way or another. 

Add in a pandemic and loads of economic stress, and we’re not in a good place. It’s no wonder that we’ve seen an uptick in overdoses across America.Here in Nevada, we’ve seen an uptick in beds filled since the pandemic took root in March. 

But as I write this, I’m reminded that hope often follows hard times.  Hope of entering recovery, getting a patient back on their feet and turning their life around, is why I got into this business. I’m constantly reminded of the hope there is in recovery every day. I hope, as we move into the winter of 2020, we continue to provide that hope to our patients here at CrossRoads and around the country.

Dave Marlon is the CEO of CrossRoads of Southern Nevada - the state's largest drug and alcohol addiction rehab center, as well as Founder of VegasStronger, a non-profit aimed at defeating addiction in Nevada. His full bio is here.

Dave Marlon is the CEO of CrossRoads of Southern Nevada - the state's largest drug and alcohol addiction rehab center, as well as Founder of VegasStronger, a non-profit aimed at defeating addiction in Nevada. His full bio is here.

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