As many as 40 million Americans over the age of 12 may have some type of drug or alcohol addiction, according to a Columbia University study. Government costs associated with dependency total nearly $500 billion annually, and that doesn’t include employer losses from missed work days and reduced productivity, personal costs, and the emotional and financial burden on family members. While there is no instant fix, there are initiatives that may help deal with the problem in an effective way.
Expanding Treatment Options
There has been a recent push to expand treatment beyond abstinence programs. Programs specific to certain groups, such as minorities and women, tend to focus on unique concerns beyond what’s addressed with one-size-fits-all programs. People who are addicted often have underlying issues that contributed to their behavior in the first place, emphasizing the need for comprehensive programs that include:
- Mental health evaluations and related services
- Services for child abuse and spousal abuse victims
- Programs that include alternative maintenance drugs
Boosting Prevention Efforts
Prevention initiatives can take many forms on federal, state and local levels. After-school activities and counseling services in neighborhoods where drug use is especially prevalent, for instance, provide adolescents and teens with constructive resources to discourage poor choices and provide preventative support.
Re-Focusing Law Enforcement Resources
There’s no denying the importance of fighting the war on drugs. However, an argument can be made for placing a greater emphasis on dangerous and violent criminals, including drug dealers and traffickers who pray on peoples’ addictions, rather than low-level offenders.
Needle Exchange and Syringe Deregulation
Initially controversial, research shows needle exchange and syringe programs can help prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases often contracted when addicts share needles without increasing drug use. In addition to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis-C, such programs often include efforts to encourage users to enter rehab.
Combating Opioid Misuse During Pregnancy
Nearly 15 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. are prescribed opioids, pain-relieving drugs that can be highly addictive. Opioid abuse during pregnancy, often in the form of taking more painkillers than what’s prescribed, may result in severe birth defects and withdrawal syndrome in newborns. Consequently, there’s a push for the FDA to change medication recommendations for pregnant women to minimize the potential for abuse and dependency.
Over-Prescribing Prevention Measures
Thirty-four states have systems in place to combat “doctor shopping,” or the practice of visiting numerous doctors to obtain meds, that allow doctors to access online reports of patient prescription histories. The Drug Enforcement Administration has also increased efforts to shutdown so-called “pill mills,” referring to the distribution of medication for non-medical reasons.
Another important step to combating drug addiction in America is to change perceptions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as a chronic, often relapsing disease that can be affected by chemical changes in the brain; meaning it’s not so easy to quit. Successful recovery often includes a combination of efforts, ranging from the initial withdrawal to ongoing support following treatment.