The opioid crisis is considered a public health emergency, with 136 deaths per day and climbing. Last year,107,000 people died from opioid overdose. Opioids are a factor in 83% of overdose deaths.
The opioid crisis shows no signs of slowing in 2022 after being exacerbated by the COVID-19 global pandemic. According to CDC estimates, there were 107,622 fatal overdoses nationwide in 2021—15% more than the estimated deaths in 2020. This heartbreaking record number of deaths represents the largest year-to-year increase in recent U.S. history, and most of these deaths are related to fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients, applied in a patch on the skin. Fentanyl is a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the U.S. It is used to cut other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine,or put into pill form and sold on the streets.
Fentanyl is the leading cause of death among Americans ages 18 to 45. Although the opioid crisis has been present in America since the mid-1990s, the crisis has worsened significantly over the past few years. A recent public health study in Georgia found that fentanyl-related deaths in teens increased by 800% compared with the year before COVID. We are now seeing an alarming new form of fentanyl pressed in the form of rainbow-colored pills targeting our youth.
In the coming months,social workers have opportunities to influence, shape and drive their communities’ response to the opioid crisis as state governments begin to devise plans for combating opioids—using the hundreds of millions of dollars opioid manufacturers will pay states to settle lawsuits filed in 2021. We can be at the forefront of ensuring financial resources from these settlements are invested in our mental health infrastructure and used for prevention, education, treatment, access to care, and more.
Prevention and access to opioid-addiction treatment and overdose-reversal drugs are critical to fighting this epidemic. Primary care settings have increasingly become a gateway to better care for individuals with both behavioral health (including substance use) and primary care needs. We need to provide resources for health care organizations to enhance behavioral health support and provide easy access to mental health care.
In September, the White House announced $1.5 billion in funding to tackle the nation’s opioid epidemic. Delivered through SAMHSA, the funds will help increase access to anti-overdose medications like naloxone, which quickly reverses the effects of opioid overdose and saves lives. The funding also helps states expand access to recovery support services and treatment for substance use disorders.
With the midterm elections on the horizon, social workers are honing advocacy efforts for the biggest priorities facing our nation, including COVID, racial reckoning, and fighting inflation. By also prioritizing the opioid crisis, we send a strong message to everyone struggling with opioid addiction: “Don’t give up. You are not alone. Your life matters.”
Contact Angelo McClain at firstname.lastname@example.org