By Nomi Health on August 31, 2023
Every year on August 31st, we observe International Overdose Awareness Day. This day is a time to remember those who have lost their lives to overdose, to raise awareness of the substance use disorder (SUD) epidemic, and to take action to prevent future deaths.
This year's theme is "Recognizing those people who go unseen," which highlights the importance of support for those who have been affected by overdose.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 20.6 million Americans suffered from an SUD in 2020.
A major driver of this healthcare crisis is opioid use. Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, and illegal drugs, such as heroin. Beginning in the early 2000s, doctors began prescribing opioids more liberally to treat pain, which led to a marked increase in addiction.
In fact, in 2020, the CDC reports that drug overdose was the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50. More than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses, a record high, with the majority of these deaths caused by opioids. Drug overdose deaths increased about 30 percent in the United States just in the year between 2019 and 2020. (Covid-19 disrupted treatment and recovery services.) Alarmingly, the overdose rate spiked by more than 500% since 1999.
Skyrocketing rates of overdose deaths have had a devastating effect on families and communities across the nation, leading to lost lives, broken families, and financial hardship. The SUD epidemic has also strained healthcare systems and law enforcement agencies to the breaking point.
A major factor in the surge of overdose deaths is the increased availability of cheap and potent fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 100 times stronger than morphine. It is often mixed with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, without the user’s knowledge. Covert adulteration frequently leads to overdose.
Another reason for the rise in overdoses is the lack of access to treatment for SUD. According to a recent KFF tracking poll, two-thirds of adults said they or a family member had experienced addiction, yet only about half of them were able to access critical care. The poll also found that the lack of insurance coverage is a major barrier to accessing SUD treatment.
There are many things that we can do to help people who are struggling with addiction. We can talk to them about our concerns. We can offer them support and encouragement. We can help them find treatment options. And we can advocate for policies that will make it easier for people to get the help they need.
Addiction is a chronic disease, just like diabetes or heart disease. It's not a moral failing, and it's not something that people can just "snap out of." It takes time and treatment to recover from addiction, but it is possible.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, know that you are not alone. There is help available. Please reach out to your doctor or a local treatment provider for more information.
Additionally, there are many practical and logistical actions that we can take to address the overdose crisis. One key initiative is to increase access to naloxone, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. Another is to expand access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which combines medication with counseling and other services to help people recover from opioid addiction.
Finally, it’s important to reduce the stigma associated with addiction and to invest in prevention programs. For instance, opioids seem to disproportionately affect women, and yet they may avoid diagnosis and treatment for fear of losing custody of their children.
This epidemic, juxtaposed with the continued lack of insurance coverage and provider panels being closed, positions the U.S. for disaster in the substance and opioid use disorder crisis. It’s unclear what needs to happen for a tipping point but our families, communities, and healthcare system cannot sustain the increasing magnitude. We, as healthcare leaders, must come together in solidarity to find solutions that aren't purely a bandaid.
Nomi Health believes that everyone deserves access to life-saving healthcare, especially our most vulnerable patient populations. That's why we offer our Success Care program, which is a comprehensive SUD treatment and recovery support program.
The Success Care program includes medication-assisted treatment, counseling, and wraparound services. We also provide support for families and loved ones. This patient-centric approach has been proven to expand access to life-saving care, eliminate social barriers, and reduce treatment costs.
Our treatment modality relies on a key resource: on-the-ground peer navigators with shared lived experience, to help patients move seamlessly through the entire process, so they can focus on recovery.
On this International Overdose Awareness Day, let’s end the stigma about substance use disorder.
Let's save lives.