Guest Editorial: We must fight opioid addiction

The Seattle Times
Feb. 12
Stock image

America is suffering from a pernicious and growing addiction to a category of drugs that include prescription pain medications and heroin.

Opioid abuse and overdoses take a lethal toll across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the U.S. death count at 28,648 for 2014.

President Barack Obama’s welcome, if belated, response to this crisis would direct $460 million toward states to dramatically expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid abuse.

As the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute noted in a 2015 online briefing, medication-assisted treatment “can be a lifesaving and cost-saving intervention for those with opioid use disorder.”

The remainder of the proposed budget authorization would go toward broad efforts to better train physicians on prescribing prescription pain medications and monitoring patients, tighten law enforcement on illegal sales and get an effective, lifesaving treatment for overdoses — naloxone — into the hands of first-responders.

Spending more to combat opioid abuse should be an easy call for lawmakers reaching for points of consensus. Addiction to prescription pain medications and heroin crosses urban and rural lines and partisan boundaries, and melds gender, age and income levels.

Treatment and care of those with opioid addictions is an evolving medical issue. No treatment of opioid use disorder is a panacea, as University of Washington professor Caleb Banta-Green notes in a co-authored article in last month’s edition of Addiction, the journal of the Society for the Study of Addiction.

But there is scientific agreement on ways to treat opioid addiction with methadone and buprenorphine, cut mortality and reverse overdoses.

As Banta-Green notes in an interview, medical science has the tools — they just need to be implemented. That includes, he notes, regular users of opioids and their families having access to naloxone for overdoses. Banta-Green, a senior research scientist with the university's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute and an affiliate associate professor with the School of Public Health, has been a White House science adviser and testified before Congress.

The opioid-abuse epidemic comes with manageable physical and brain chemistry challenges. Fundamental to it all is dramatic expansion of medication-assisted treatment sought by Obama.

Banta-Green emphasizes that expanding awareness and demand for treatment are key as well.

The growing number of Americans who need help makes it clear that failing to act is not an option. Spending money would save money in health care and law enforcement costs, and prevent physical, emotional and social trauma.