Too many lives continue to be lost from opioid overdoses amongst adolescents. While the ‘Helping to End Addiction Long-term’ initiative is welcome, a shocking number of teens who take overdoses are still not getting treatment.
What are opioids?
Opioids include things like morphine, hydrocodone, methadone, fentanyl, and Vicodin, They are often known as narcotics and can include recreational drugs like heroin and cocaine. However, more often they refer to legal medications. Nevertheless, they often have a street name, a brand name, and a scientific name as you would find with recreational drugs.
Opioids are also powerful medications that can be used to help people suffering from severe pain, recovering from major surgery, and recovering from injury. While useful, opioids can come with adverse effects like dizziness, drowsiness and confusion. It is also possible for the body to become used to them over time.
As the body’s tolerance grows people will need higher doses to achieve the same results. At the same time, patients may develop a dependence on them. Large doses of opioids can also be fatal. Combined, it is easy to see how these three factors can lead to a higher risk of overdose and death for people who become addicted to them.
Opioid Addiction: A Crisis In Numbers
An estimated 5 million Americans try opioids recreationally every year. There are also now more deaths from legal opioids than crack and cocaine combined. Here, we outline some other facts outlining the crisis around opioid abuse:
- 21-29% of chronic pain sufferers prescribed opioids, misuse them.
- 8-12% develop a disorder (meaning their addiction causes clinically significant distress or impairment).
- 7 out of 10 deaths by overdose in the year ending February 2019 were as a result of opioids.
- The latest statistics from 2018 indicate a potential decline in overdose deaths for the first time in decades.
Not Enough Treatment
In addition to these statistics, research from JAMA Pediatrics shows that more than two-thirds of 13-22-year-olds did not get any follow-up addiction treatment after taking an opioid overdose. This study used the data of 3,600 children and adolescents taken from the Truven–IBM Watson Health MarketScan database for Medicaid claims between 2009 and 2015.
Only 29% of those children that did receive addiction treatment received counseling from health agencies with behavioral expertise. Even worse, less than 2% were supported with medication to help them overcome their addiction which is widely seen as the gold standard approach to deal with opioid abuse.
Young people who suffered overdoses from heroin misuse were most likely to suffer recurrent overdoses. However, this group was also less likely to be offered any treatment at all compared to people addicted to opioids.
A Change in Outlook
There is some debate regarding the use of medication to treat things like opioid abuse. It can be argued that using medication to fight addiction only serves to swap one issue for another. However, the use of anti-addiction medications is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics when it comes to opioid addiction.
Changing the stigma attached to the use of anti-addiction medication when it comes to opioid misuse is an important change in outlook. This approach will take the pressure off parents, reducing the need for them to battle for what is recognized as the treatment with the highest chance of success. Indeed, given the higher success rate of anti-addiction medication compared to both counseling and detoxing, it is vital to tackle this stigma.
Finding the Best Treatment
According to Professor Lucas Hill from the Pharmacy college at the University of Texas, due to the increased prevalence of highly-potent synthetics “initiating medications immediately after a non-fatal overdose should be the top priority for any family”. They go on to propose that parents should seek a change in treatment if medication is not a part of any treatment plan on offer. Good providers will see the patient within a week of accepting their insurance, with treatment available after the first consultation.
The scale of the opioid crisis requires a change in approach responsive to the available evidence. This means breaking the stigma attached to medication-based treatments to opioid addiction. There must also be huge efforts to ensure young people receive appropriate aftercare after suffering an overdose.