Combating the crisis is going to take preventive measures.
The opioid crisis doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon – to the contrary, it only continues to worsen with an ever-increasing nationwide overdose fatality rate. Much of this has to do with the flood of fentanyl that is making its way across the border from Mexico. The cheap synthetic, which is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is being laced with other illicit drugs to keep dealers’ overhead at a minimum. As a result, many buyers are purchasing pills and powders containing fentanyl unbeknownst to them, making overdose prevention nearly impossible.
The persistence of the opioid epidemic calls for sustainable solutions to reduce the death rate, which is higher than it has ever been before. Of course, in order to carry out these solutions, proper funding will also be needed.
So far, there have been marketing efforts such as “one pill can kill” circulating major metropolises, warning teens and young adults about the dangers of buying drugs “on the streets” (this now includes in online marketplaces). Naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, is also being widely distributed for free in many areas. Efforts to gain approval for safe injection sites have also been made, so those who are addicted can use in a safe space under the care of medical personnel. Yet, despite all of these efforts, the crisis continues. Why is this?
The National Prescription Opiate Litigation, which consolidated thousands of lawsuits against some of the manufacturers responsible for the epidemic, as well as other ongoing litigation, is resulting in billions of dollars of settlement funds. However, instead of allocating the funding directly to crisis prevention, many lawmakers are planning to spend it on end-stage opioid addiction measures such as the distribution of Narcan and expanding law enforcement teams. While these decisions are “okay,” they’re a far cry from preventing the problem – they’re more reactionary than proactive.
In Wisconsin, for instance, after receiving its first $31 million payment, the Republican co-chairs of the state’s Joint Committee on Finance cut or substantially reduced funding for the Department of Health Services’ family support program and a school substance use prevention curriculum in favor of spending it on law enforcement. Wisconsin lawmakers also decided to get rid of the proposed allocation of $1 million for a prevention services program focused on the “root causes” or “systemic contributors to substance use and addiction, including housing instability and trauma,” records show.
Prevention is increasingly recognized as an essential element for tackling addiction – hence, the D.A.R.E. program, which has been in existence for many decades. Devaluing the significance of preventing family instability, childhood trauma, and youth and young adult exposure to opioids is equivalent to giving up on solving the crisis altogether. Without preventive measures, the nation will forever be playing catch up, and despite its “best efforts,” the overdose rate will only continue to grow.
Whether other states that are set to receive funds will follow Wisconsin’s lead or choose to go the more sustainable route by investing in prevention is yet to be seen. For the sake of the nation, one can only hope the choice is the latter.