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Accidental overdose deaths need to be recognized as a treatable disease

By Mark Kaplan, Acting President BOD, Capital District Recovery Center (CDRC)

Accidental overdose deaths will continue to rise until we recognize this epidemic as a chronic treatable disease and not a moral failing or shortcoming.

In 2021, the US reported more than 100,000 overdose deaths, the most ever recorded in a single year, a 30% increase over the previous year, according to the CDC.

At an annual cost of $740 billion each year, according to the NIH/National Institute on Drug Abuse, we could spend a fraction of that amount and increase access to addiction treatment with an approach that’s more compassionate, evidence-based, and rooted in public health.

SAMHSA estimates 40.3 million people are living with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and 2.7 million Americans are living with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), however, only 7% and 11% respectively are receiving treatment. Why?

The answer is STIGMA!! Although we have started to turn the corner on recognizing Substance and Opioid Use Disorder as a chronic disease that is treatable with evidenced based treatment available, old stereotypes continue to be pervasive, which in turn keeps those who suffer in the shadows and not seeking the help that is available.

In a recent comprehensive survey on stigma, responses confirm that societal views have seen little change. Over 75% of the public doesn’t believe addiction is a treatable chronic disease. 45% of medical professionals think using medication to help treat addiction is swapping one addiction for another. 46% of those with addiction said they felt ashamed of themselves.

We need to look at treatment differently as with other chronic diseases! Success in treating SUD & OUD is more than 12 Step programs. They must include available FDA approved Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), Counseling and Behavioral Therapy, Mental Health Monitoring and Treatment as well as Support Groups. In addition, a new novel way to address SUD, available to patients 24/7 are FDA Authorized Prescription Digital Therapies (PDT’s) that improve retention and abstinence rates However, these new therapies are not widely used nor covered by insurance or Medicaid for those who suffer from SUD.

It’s time we recognize this for the chronic, treatable disease that it is and stop blaming those that are afflicted as morally flawed or socially irresponsible and start appropriately directing resources for this costly disease that continues to take an increasing number of lives each year.



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