We have treatments for opioid addiction that work. So why is the problem getting worse?

Interview from Vox By Lydialyle Gibson Updated Feb 12, 2024, 9:29am EST

Highlighting the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States, the piece underscores the surge in overdose deaths fueled by potent synthetics like fentanyl. Despite strides in medication-assisted treatment (MAT), obstacles such as stigma, regulatory constraints, and cultural biases persist, hindering access to evidence-based care, especially for marginalized communities. Innovative approaches, including harm reduction strategies, expanding MAT availability in correctional facilities, and integrating addiction care into non-traditional settings like churches, offer promising avenues for addressing these disparities. Nonetheless, overcoming entrenched societal attitudes and systemic barriers remains crucial to effectively combating the opioid epidemic and improving outcomes for those affected.

Xiao Hua Yang for Vox

Key Takeaways

  1. The opioid crisis persists despite a decrease in media coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic, with overdose deaths reaching record highs.
  2. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are driving the surge in overdose deaths, particularly impacting Black, American Indian, and Latinx communities.
  3. Long-term medication-assisted treatment (MAT) combining counseling and opioid medications like methadone or buprenorphine is effective in treating opioid addiction.
  4. Barriers to accessing evidence-based treatment like MAT include stigma, regulatory hurdles, and cultural biases.
  5. Treatment paradigms still reflect outdated moralizing attitudes toward addiction rather than viewing it primarily as a medical issue.
  6. Stigma, limited access to MAT, and systemic barriers disproportionately affect marginalized communities and contribute to the opioid crisis.
  7. Promising interventions include harm reduction strategies, expanding access to MAT in jails and prisons, and bringing addiction care into non-traditional settings like churches.
  8. Legislative efforts like the Modernizing Opioid Treatment Access Act (MOTA) aim to improve access to MAT, but opinions among addiction specialists vary.
  9. Culturally authentic approaches like the Imani Breakthrough Project, which provides addiction care in Black and Latinx churches, show promise in addressing racial disparities in treatment and improving outcomes.
  10. Disentangling addiction care from traditional medical settings and integrating spirituality and community support can be effective in engaging and retaining patients in treatment.

From the Article

The opioid crisis doesn't get as many headlines as it used to before Covid-19, but the news remains stubbornly, shockingly bad.

Decades into the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in American history, people are dying at higher rates than ever. Between 2017 and 2021, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids jumped from 47,600 to 80,411 - many more Americans than are killed each year by guns or cars. The surge has been largely driven by powerful synthetics like fentanyl, an opioid 50 times more potent than heroin.

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