How to Cure the Opioid Epidemic

Since the 2000s, following mass over-prescription of opioid painkillers, opioid abuse has become rampant throughout the country and especially severe in New York City. The New York City’s Mayor’s Office reports that in 2016, about 1,300 individuals died from drug overdoses, more than any year on record. Of these deaths, approximately 80% involved an opioid. Alongside heroin, the synthetic drug fentanyl has been responsible for the deaths of many New Yorkers. 

Opioid abuse is an omnipresent public health issue that takes familiar forms in familiar places. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the highest contributor to the opioid epidemic is not a street drug such as heroin, but pharmaceutical prescription drugs.

What makes opioid abuse so dangerous and challenging to overcome is its ability to trigger reward processes in the brain with the chemical dopamine, creating feelings of intense pleasure and happiness. Not only does this create a strong incentive for the user to use again, but, with continuous use, the brain requires more opioids to elicit the same reward processes. Eventually, dangerously large quantities are required. Conversely, withdrawal can be torturous, as it causes severe, flu-like symptoms. Even though an addict may be determined to quit, the drug will have altered their body to act counter to their goal. Within hours, an addict may feel the harsh effects of newfound sobriety.  

The widespread and intense effects of the opioid epidemic call for a widespread and intensive solution. Alongside the New York City government’s efforts to counteract overdose, through naltrexone treatment, for example, organizations like Greenwich House, right in Greenwich Village, provide support through its Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program (MMTP). Methadone is a kind of “drug liking” solution that reduces the painful effects of withdrawal and the euphoric effects of drug use, effectively blocking both incentives to continue drug use. Treatment typically lasts for a minimum of 12 months, though some may use treatment for years along with behavioral therapy. Methadone is currently the most effective treatment for opioid dependence compared to drug-free treatment or therapeutic communities. With proper administration, methadone patients are most likely to continue treatment long-term and maintain sobriety. 

The change provided by MMTP is felt by its patients and also by the community at large. In becoming mentally and physically stable, patients can return to being active members of society. They can hold jobs, pay rent, maintain relationships, and live without the limitations of unbridled addiction. Such a development can be seen from a fiscal perspective as well; for every dollar spent at MMTP for treatment, there is a savings to the community of between $4 and $13 based on estimates of opioid-related criminal activity costs. Gail Reid, Greenwich House Director of Behavioral Health Services states, “when health care-related savings are included, total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12:1”. 

Opioid overdose is a loss that is being mitigated by treatment centers like the MMTP at Greenwich House, the New York City government, and other organizations. “Treating the opioid public health epidemic is integral to maintaining the vibrancy and vitality of our citizens and community,” Reid continued. “It is our resolute hope that one day this threat will no longer plague our people and our community.”

By Katie Lee

About Greenwich House

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