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What Can the Government do About the Opioid Crisis?

The opioid crisis has gotten a lot of media attention in recent months. In October 2017, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. The move mainly removed hiring restrictions for certain government funded programs and made money available from the Public Health Emergency fund, which still only has about 57,000 dollars in it. This announcement, despite bringing much needed attention to the issue, has been widely dismissed as superficial and inadequate. What would a better government response look like?

Make Narcan widely available.

Narcan is a drug that reverses opioid overdose. It is an injection–or sometimes a nasal spray–commonly carried by first responders and it brings someone out of an overdose in under five minutes. If someone stops breathing, fast treatment is critical. If Narcan is easy to get and more people are trained to use it properly, more lives can be saved by timely treatment. Opioids are responsible for more than half of overdose deaths and making Narcan more widely available is the most direct way of preventing those deaths. Narcan is not terribly expensive either–about 20 to 40 dollars for a kit, compared to the 30,000 an overdose death costs taxpayers.

Make treatment easier to get.

And prioritize treatment over prison for nonviolent drug offenders. This is a medium-term solution and it’s much more complicated than distributing Narcan. Only about 10 percent of people who need treatment actually seek it. More than a third of these people don’t seek help because they don’t want to quit. Another third believe they can’t afford it, and that’s probably where the government can have the biggest impact. Many people are not aware of existing programs to help them get treatment so letting people know about these programs should increase the number of people seeking treatment without having to make more funds available.

The other option is, of course, to make more funds available to people seeking treatment. Part of the puzzle is also allowing Medicare and Medicaid to pay for more programs, which may be included in the emergency declaration. The challenge with this is making sure people are choosing quality programs with expert care, and not just spending taxpayer money to be locked in a room in a church basement for a week. It’s also important to make medication assisted treatment available, which may require a public education effort to combat the mistaken belief that it is just trading one addiction for another.

Geography presents another challenge to availability. Many of the areas hardest hit by the opioid crisis are rural and there are no treatment facilities near by. The declaration may help to expand teleconferencing with doctors and therapists. There are other computer assisted therapies that might help fewer therapists serve more people in remote areas. These options all require funding and awareness.

Find better ways to treat pain.

This solution is more amorphous and long-term. Many people who become addicted to opioids began using prescription painkillers to manage chronic pain. Others were prescribed too many painkillers following injuries or surgery. Finding better treatments for chronic pain and educating doctors about the judicious prescription of opioids will reduce the number of people who become addicted to begin with and limit the availability of opioids on the streets.

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.