U. S. public health officials have said that the opioid epidemic is not getting any better.
Testifying at a Senate hearing, Dr. Debra Houry, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and other public health officials said that opioid addiction in America has taken a turn for the worse. In addition, official said that addressing the issue is beyond the scope of any particular agency.
The director of the National Institutes for Health, Dr Francis Collins added that they “need all hands on deck.”
The hearing was the first in a series to be held before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. It was attended by officials from the four federal health agencies, who delivered their assessment of the opioid epidemic.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who heads the committee, said that the opioid crisis is “tearing our communities apart, tearing families apart, and posing an enormous challenge to health providers and law enforcement officials.”
According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services administration, more than 11 million people in America misused prescription drugs in 2016. Of that number, one million used heroin while 2.1 million suffered from an opioid disorder caused by prescription opioids and heroin.
Officials at the Senate hearing also raised the alarm over the still increasing deaths due to drug overdose, particularly those that involved fentanyl which was made illicitly, as well as other similar potent synthetic opioids.
The officials said that opioid overdose has been the cause of death of more than 300,000 Americans since 2000. In 2016, drug overdose deaths numbered at least 64,000, according to preliminary date. That figure is the highest ever recorded in a single year in the US.
Drug Abuse Treatment
Public health officials at the Senate hearing mentioned the steps taken by federal agencies to combat the problem. A number of programs have been implemented to improve access to treatment and to mobilize resources in order to increase availability and quality of long-term recovery. There are also programs that target high-risk individuals such as women who are pregnant and those who are in jail and prison.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration award close to $46 million in grants in September to programs located in 22 states to help first responders and those who directly work with high-risk individuals.
But despite the number of programs available and the money received, Republican Senator Susan Collins from Maine says that the needed progress is still nowhere in sight.
According to public health officials, much more needs to be done, especially when it comes to prevention and opioid over-prescription.
Dr Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said that most people become opioid addicts after being treated with the drug for a medical condition. As such, steps have been taken by the agency to improve how medical providers are educated on the risks and benefits of prescribing opioids.
Dr Collins of the National Institutes of Health also said that alternative treatments like acupuncture should also be emphasized.
The Senate Committee will next hear from state officials next month on what they have been doing and what they need to fight opioid addiction.