Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, caused by “acute mixed drug intoxication,” has shined a spotlight on drug-related deaths and addiction in the United States, and specifically, opioid abuse. Opioids include prescription painkillers, morphine, methadone and heroin, among other drugs, and statistics show dramatic increases in opioid-related overdoses across the country over the last decade and a half.
Sharp inclines in opioid-related abuse and overdose deaths
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since 1999, the sale of prescription painkillers has risen some 300%, with overdose statistics rising alongside. Between 1999 and 2010, overdose deaths climbed 265% among men, and an astonishing 400% among women.
Taking action: state and local governments respond
In the wake of the drug crisis and these drug-related deaths, municipalities across the country are seeking solutions. While traditional mindsets have looked to tighten legislation and introduce stiff penalties for drug possession and trafficking, it seems that a shift in perspective is underway.
In January, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin spent his entire State of the State Message addressing what he called “a full-blown heroin crisis.” His speech encouraged officials to treat addiction as a disease, as opposed to responding with crime and punishment alone. To support his position, Shumlin contrasted the cost of incarceration (approximately $1120 per week) with the cost of state-financed treatment (approximately $123 per week) and called for expansion of addiction treatment facilities to ease the growing drug epidemic.
Massachusetts is also making its case for change, with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh leading the charge. As the Boston Globe reports, Walsh has promised the city its own Office of Recovery Services. Walsh, a recovering alcoholic himself, has spent much of his career helping addicts. As the Boston Globe puts it, during his tenure as a state legislator, he was the “go-to person on Beacon Hill for addicts in search of treatment.” Now as the Mayor of Boston, he hopes to bring lasting recovery to the growing number of addicts that call the city home. Walsh’s proposed solution would focus on getting drug abusers off the streets, but not into the justice system. Instead, the new Office of Recovery Services would focus on getting addicts the treatment they need, as soon as they need it.
More than 30 other states are echoing similar concerns about the rise in addiction, and introducing initiatives in efforts to eradicate prescription drug abuse. Connecticut lawmakers are proposing new immunity laws that prevent those who administer Narcan to someone experiencing an overdose from being charged with possession. (Narcan is an opioid overdose antidote of sorts.) Pennsylvania is looking to enact its own Pharmaceutical Accountability Monitoring System. Colorado is proposing a state-run medication take-back program to prevent unused medications being used by those other than the prescribed patient. And the list goes on.
Coast to coast, lawmakers are opening new discussions about drug addiction. But the most important conversations start a lot closer to home. Lasting recovery requires treatment and support. If you or someone you love is in need of treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, get help now. The Watershed is available 24/7 to take your call: 1-800-861-1768.