Combating addiction during the worst substance abuse crisis in American history

The sheer magnitude of the substance abuse crisis in the USA impelled President Donald Trump to officially declare a national emergency during a White House event late October. His move was welcomed by the media that dubbed it as a long-anticipated action to address a rapidly escalating epidemic of opioid abuse. Opioid is a substance derived from the poppy seeds and is used to relieve nerve pain.

According to a report in 2016, 27.1 million people (one in twelve Americans) in the US were users of either illicit drugs or misused prescription drugs. Statistics show that trouble has been brewing on this front since decades. According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics released in 2009, the number of emergency departments visits due to misuse of legally permitted pharmaceutical products were significantly those due to abuse of illicit drugs.

It is estimated that drug overdoses killed around 60,000 people in the USA in 2016, up nearly six-fold from the turn of the 1990s. In other words, over 160 men and women die due to substance abuse each day, making it the leading cause of death among Americans under fifty. Evidence suggests that the situation has further deteriorated in 2017.

The number of states legalizing marijuana is on the increase. Liberal FDA rules for advertising of pharmaceutical drugs, in place since 1997, remain and the ease with which a prescription can be obtained effectively means that opioid drugs will continue as a stepping stone towards consumption of other illicit drugs for the foreseeable future.

The good news is that the problem is perfectly treatable. Sufferers can not only overcome addiction, but even resume a normal life. In fact, according to a poll conducted in 2012, a staggering 23.5 million Americans affirmed that they had recovered from a problem related to drug or alcohol abuse.

There is no doubt that the government and other public authorities will act to quell the crisis at some point in time, but we, as individuals, too can contribute to combating the crisis. The starting point in our battle against addiction is awareness regarding the available solutions and the challenges involved in helping someone overcome the affliction.

There exists a strong institutional mechanism to combat addiction. A starting point for those seeking help- whether for themselves or their loved ones- could be the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline. In addition, there exist in the US no less than 3,500 certified physicians specializing in addiction.

In most cases, medical attention alone is not adequate. Complimentary therapies are necessary for successful treatment. These can be administered by a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Admittedly, identifying a good rehab center is easier said than done. Nonetheless, there are certain guidelines that can help overcome this challenge. First and foremost is the proposed treatment. A one size fits all approach cannot work. The program must be tailored to the requirements of each individual. The people responsible for designing and implementing it should be highly skilled and knowledgeable.

In this context, one important factor to be kept in mind is the nature of the program. Outpatient programs are non-residential in nature, in which case a lot depends on the patient and the support structures that he or she has in place. In general in-patient (or residential) programs have a greater probability of success.

The duration of the rehabilitation program is yet another important factor to be considered. Most experts concur that addiction cannot be cured in a short time period. Therefore, the conventional 30-day program may not be enough to effect recovery. A thorough discussion on this matter is necessary before signing up for a rehab program.

At a more practical level, it is important to consider the cost of rehab. It may be true that no cost is too high when it concerns a loved one, but reality is that our capacity to help is subject to budgetary constraints. Identify a rehab center that can either provide quality services at affordable costs or else, accepts an insurance plan is important. Therefore, while choosing a center, it is highly advisable to verify whether the patient’s health insurance plan covers substance abuse and whether the center accepts that plan. In addition, it would be worthwhile to know what payment options are offered.

Patients and their loved ones need to keep in mind that even after a rehab program, a relapse can occur. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is chronic in nature and consequently, relapse into drug abuse is likely. In fact, relapse rates of disorders relating to substance abuse are comparable to those of other chronic illnesses like diabetes or asthma. Therefore, relapse is by no means a failure. It only indicates that the treatment must be either repeated or else a fresh approach may be needed.

Lastly, it is important to remember that recovery from addiction will require love and support from near and dear ones too. Once out of rehab, the patient may encounter several triggers that can cause a relapse. For instance, visiting a place where he or she had a traumatic experience that drove the person to addiction could a relapse. It is important to protect the patient from potential triggers.

The road to recovery can be a long and hard one. There are no short cuts and there may be several obstacles along the way. Nevertheless, it is a road worth travelling on. There are 23.5 million Americans who have done it successfully.

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