America’s opioid epidemic just keeps getting worse.
In 2017, our nation hit a new high for opioid overdose deaths: nearly 48,000 people. That accounted for more than two-thirds of the total U.S. drug overdose deaths that year.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services hopes to begin turning the tide with a new effort aimed at reducing overdose deaths by 40 percent in four test states: Ohio, Kentucky, Massachusetts and New York. The program is set to last three years.
The program is called the HEAL Initiative. HEAL stands for Helping to End Addiction Long-Term. Through HEAL, selected universities and local organizations will team up to implement evidence-based strategies for curbing opioid fatalities. They will focus on communities with high death rates from opioid overdose.
A key element of the plan is to distribute more lifesaving rescue medication. You may have heard of this medicine, perhaps watching law enforcement shows on TV. It’s called naloxone [na-LOX-one], and anyone can administer it. One study has shown it is 94 percent effective in reversing overdose and saving lives.
Another HEAL strategy is to increase addiction treatment for people in the criminal justice system. Lengthening the duration of treatment for people in recovery, and offering them more support, is another. Data show many people who ditch opioids relapse within six months, and HEAL aims to change that.
These and other facets of the program have proved effective in the past.
Hopefully, this kind of all-out attack will slow the casualties in this opioid war. After all, we’re fighting for the lives of our fellow Americans.