By PHS 795 student, Gabrielle Waclawik
A few weeks ago, President Trump proclaimed he considered the opioid epidemic a national emergency. Our nation’s opioid crisis has been brewing over many years, really since the 1990’s when pain gained recognition as the fifth vital sign and opioids, the ‘wonder drug’ were utilized in response. But it really was not until the problem began to infiltrate and make noise in the more white and affluent communities in the last 5-10 years, that the opioid epidemic began to gain traction in the mainstream and popular media. Now, this is no longer an issue that we, as a society, can ignore, as non-prescription opioid use, addiction, overdoses, and preventable deaths have increased at such a dramatic and exponential rate over the last decade. Most importantly, we must not forget that much of this illicit drug use started as a routine prescription for opioids from a licensed health provider. In fact, according to the CDC, people who are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin.
However, some still argue against the use of their tax dollars towards funding free needle exchange programs, or easier public access to a readily available antidote (Naloxone), claiming that this only propagates a message that illicit drug use is tolerated by our society. Others, perhaps, believe this is an isolated problem among the drug user community, that does not affect them, thus how can it be a public health issue of national concern requiring collective action? But in reality, beyond the addiction, the overdoses, and the preventable deaths, downstream effects have now become extremely evident, with increasing numbers of new Hepatitis C and HIV cases on the rise. According to the CDC, new Hepatitis C cases in the U.S. grew nearly 300 percent between 2010 and 2015. In 2015, the state of Indiana’s new Hepatitis C cases were increasing as such a rapid rate that the state declared it a public health emergency, immediately making syringe exchange programs legal for the first time ever in its state. Furthermore, the access to medication alone for Hepatitis C treatment has been a greatly debated topic due to its high costs, and whether state and federal medical programming should be bearing this burden. This does not even begin to include the preventable drain of numerous other resources such as hospital costs or decreased work force productivity.
The degree of complexity the opioid epidemic presents requires multi-disciplinary action on many levels, and has, more recently, finally forced a government response. On a state level, Wisconsin has led the charge with republican Representative Nygren, whose own daughter experienced heroin overdose and continues to battle drug addiction. Rep. Nygren brought forth the HOPE Act, which was initially signed in 2014 but continues to have addendums up for vote. On a national level, while President Trump may have made a public verbal statement acknowledging the issue, weeks later he still has yet to officially sign the paperwork to formally declare the opioid crisis a national emergency. In fact, the Atlantic article points out that despite Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the failure to repeal avoided a dramatic cut to Medicaid and thus maintained states’ ability to respond to the opioid crisis through the broader coverage of treatment and substance abuse programs. By signing the declaration, it will allow us easier access to federal disaster funds and waiving of certain federal program regulations. So that we can more quickly and robustly respond to this growing opioid epidemic, please sign the paperwork, President Trump.