Ever since 2011, President Obama has proclaimed October to be National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. This year’s theme, Unleashing the Collective Power of Communities, calls upon parents, youth, schools, community leaders and us all to recognize the role that substance abuse prevention plays in promoting safe and healthy communities, while paying tribute to all those working to prevent substance use.
By working together to prevent drug abuse, we can potentially stop the downward spiral of addiction and help prevent those in our communities from ever reaching the despondent depths of despair with cries of, “I need help.”
The high cost of addiction
“Alcohol and drug use can stand in the way of academic achievement, jeopardize school safety and limit a young person’s possibilities. Additionally, thousands of Americans die each year from prescription drug overdose—and many can access these drugs in their own medicine cabinets at home. We must educate our children about the harms and risks associated with substance abuse. By talking with our sons and daughters early and often about the dangers of drug and alcohol use, we can help set them firmly on a path toward a brighter future,” states President Obama in this year’s proclamation.
Michael Botticelli, the director of National Drug Control Policy, adds, “Each year, illicit drug use costs our country nearly two hundred billion dollars due to crime, health care and lost productivity. Although we are not able to prevent every person from using drugs, promoting community-led prevention activities is an effective way to provide young people with the tools they need to make healthy decisions.”
Addiction: a chronic medical illness
Addiction is a chronic medical illness, notes Dr Jonathan Horey, chief medical officer of Sunspire Health, a national network of addiction recovery providers. “It is important to understand that addiction is a chronic medical illness like diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma. This means that substance use disorders are not something that can be cured but they can be successfully managed. Much like these other chronic illnesses, appropriate management of substance use disorders requires patient and family education, professional support, access to evidence-based treatment and, in many cases, medication to help improve the chances of long term sobriety.”
Heroin’s deadly rising
A rise in heroin use across our nation has raised alarms within the medical community. Just why are so many using this deadly drug? Horey explains: “During the decade between 2001 and 2011, there was a 348% increase in treatment admissions for prescription opioids (i.e., not heroin) and a 564% increase in overdoses during roughly that same time period. As state and local governments along with the public became aware of this problem, changes were made to the formulation of these medications (making them more difficult to abuse), physicians were educated about the dangers of overprescribing and law enforcement began to crack down on so-called pill mills that made these powerful medications readily available to anyone who was willing to pay.
‘”As a result,” Dr Horey continues, “the use and death rate from prescription opioids has begun to level off. However, because of the decreased availability and rising price of prescription opioids, people already dependent on opioids began to switch to heroin, which has led to a 272% increase in deaths from heroin overdose between 2010 and 2013. Today’s heroin is cheaper, easier to get than prescription opioids and more potent. While no one strategy can address this problem, communities can work to ensure that their citizens have access to appropriate substance abuse treatment.”
The role of community
Dr Horey adds that “access to care is perhaps the most important thing that communities can do to help their citizens find the road to recovery. Substance use disorders carry with them an enormous amount of stigma and shame and this shame often keeps patients from seeking treatment. Tragically, this delay in getting into treatment can result in an early death, especially in the case of opioid use disorders.”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also recognizes the importance of community for recovery and of “having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.” In particular, “Hope, the belief that these challenges and conditions can be overcome,” they say, “is the foundation of recovery. A person’s recovery is built on his or her strengths, talents, coping abilities, resources, and inherent values. It is holistic, addresses the whole person and their community, and is supported by peers, friends, and family members.”
The belief that patients suffering from substance use disorders never get better, Horey says, is a myth that communities can work to dispel. “In fact, the relapse rate for substance use disorders is not significantly worse than it is for other chronic illnesses like diabetes or high blood pressure when relapse for the latter chronic illnesses is defined as the patient needing a higher level of care to address their illness. While the rate of relapse varies by the substance that is being abused, overall sobriety rates one year after treatment are anywhere from 40–60%. In sum, treatment works but only if it is available and only if it is provided using research-proven methodologies.”
To mark the day
If you would like get involved in the effort to help our nation’s youth, families and communities lead healthy, happy and productive drug-free lives, the director of National Drug Control Policy suggests the following:
- Share the director’s video message to start a conversation about the importance of prevention; or
- Help inspire others to get involved by spreading the word about what you’re doing in your community
Prevention is key
Helping to prevent the devastating effects of drug abuse and the tremendous toll it takes on individuals, families and communities is the first step. Drug prevention occurs at the local level of community—and through the efforts of all, together we can help to prevent the scourge of drug use and addiction for some before it even begins.