Philadelphia’s struggle to combat the opioid epidemic continues to prove itself as a problem. Rates of substance abuse, overdose, and deaths due to drug use show little signs of slowing. Addiction contributes to the rising problem of homelessness throughout the city. The state urges lifting stigmas on opioid addiction as a vital step to push back against the issue.
The state of Pennsylvania started the year strong with continued vigor to address the opioid epidemic. Governor Tom Wolf has been a vocal supporter of providing help to residents battling drug addiction.
Among various approaches to encourage the fight, Wolf approved a $5 million loan repayment plan for students planning to specialize in the opioid crisis. A Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania also gave the state more funding to support those in need of addiction treatment.
It wasn’t long before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and attention deviated to slowing the spread of the virus. The fight against opioids was one of the many causes that took a back seat to the coronavirus. Unfortunately, the shift did nothing to slow the spread of the opioid addiction problem.
Wolf’s Response to the Epidemic
Though 2020 caused people to lose sight of the “other epidemic,” the Wolf administration is renewing the fight. He made it a point to note that, while COVID-19 is an ongoing problem, the concerns about opioid addiction have neither gone away nor lessened, either. While people focused on the spread of the virus, those struggling with addiction stayed hidden in the shadows.
Wolf and representatives from the Pennsylvania State Department of Health again called for an end to the addiction stigma. Officials hope that when residents see the state urges lifting stigmas on opioid addiction it will encourage them to reconsider their assumptions. Additionally, the programs available to individuals stuck in the cycle of drug addiction are a crucial part of escaping it.
It’s easy to fall into the false beliefs and preconceived notions that surround addiction. These misconceptions do nothing to slow the spread of the opioid epidemic and only contribute to the problem. Overcoming addiction isn’t as simple as “just quitting.” Thankfully, the Wolf administration realizes the enduring extent of the issue and continues supporting the fight.
“The most important thing for people to know is that there is hope through the help that is available for Pennsylvanians struggling with substance use disorder,” Secretary Jennifer Smith of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. “We must end the stigma associated with substance use disorder. Ending addiction stigma means saving Pennsylvania lives.”
Encouraging Advancements in the Face of Adversity
Despite the distraction from the opioid epidemic, some remained focused on combating the problem. Progress toward overcoming the issue didn’t stall entirely. According to Dr. Rachel Levine, Health Secretary for Pennsylvania, the year still saw some reassuring advances.
Opioid prescriptions were down 47 percent as of the end of last year as a result of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. It has also nearly eliminated the illicit act of “doctor shopping.” This dangerous practice of seeking out multiple prescriptions from different doctors and pharmacies has been a growing problem over the past few decades.
45 Centers of Excellence have launched since 2016, offering treatment to more than 32,500 people in need. The Department of Human Services oversees these Medicaid-covered facilities in an attempt to stem the effects of opioid use disorder.
Pennsylvania collected more than 178,540 pounds of unwanted drugs from 882 drug take-back boxes throughout the state in 2019. Though 2020 data was not yet available, the massive amount of medication collected was a promising finding.
44,000 people called into the Get Help Now Hotline and were connected directly to a treatment provider. That number reflects the state’s work to meet the demands of people seeking treatment for their opioid addiction.
More than 47,000 life-saving doses of naloxone were administered by emergency medical services over the course of the year. The state distributed an additional 10,000 doses to residents as part of a statewide naloxone distribution program.
Even though there’s more work to be done, Pennsylvania remains hopeful in the face of adversity. The advancements made while still overcoming the impact of COVID-19 shows that the state has no plans of slowing their response.
Despite Some Relief, Concern Still Remains
While the progress is somewhat reassuring, official numbers for 2020 have yet to be released. There was a slight decrease in the number of overdoses as of the start of last year but officials wonder whether the trend will continue. Pennsylvania was still among the states with the highest rates of deaths due to drug overdose, with 36.1 deaths per 100,000 people.
The decrease was mainly attributed to the lower number of dispensed opioid prescriptions. Work done by the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program will likely reveal a similar trend. But shifts toward other drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and even methamphetamine may outweigh any progress in that area.
Additionally, the isolation caused by social distancing recommendations and COVID-19 restrictions made the problem worse. Addiction thrives in isolation. Those battling an active substance use disorder merely continued the pattern.
People who were in early recovery faced a new, terrifying reality. If they hadn’t built up the resiliency necessary for recovery, they likely reverted to using again. Many people turned back to substances for relief from the growing sense of stress, fear, and uncertainty.
The true extent of COVID-19’s impact will become clear as data from last year is released. Pennsylvania officials as well as residents throughout the state will soon know how much the coronavirus epidemic affected the opioid epidemic.
Overcoming the Stigmas on Opioid Addiction
There are dozens of misconceptions surrounding the true nature of addiction. People still assume that those struggling with drug addiction have a problem with willpower or a weak sense of self-control. They believe that it’s as simple as “just quitting” and anyone who hasn’t quit just hasn’t tried hard enough.
These stigmas on opioid addiction are dangerous and contribute to the continued problem. If these individuals could truly comprehend how substance use disorder works, they may be more inclined to empathize and understand. Those who have direct experience with a loved one who struggles with addiction see how drugs really affect a person.
If Pennsylvania wants to make a dent in the addiction epidemic, residents need to work on overcoming the stigmas on opioid addiction. Writing people off as unmotivated or weak-willed discourages them from asking for the help they need. Rising rates of abuse, overdose, and death will continue until people are willing to reconsider the way they view the problem.
Finding a Way Out from the Darkness of Drug Addiction
The shame and stigma associated with addiction are detrimental to those trying to find help. Thankfully, substance use disorder does not need to be the end of the road. There is a way of the darkness of drug addiction and into the light of life. Learning to live without depending on substances can be a challenge but treatment facilities like Peace Valley Recovery make that possible.
Using a combination of traditional treatment methods and newer evidenced-based approaches, Peace Valley Recovery provides patients a path out of the addiction cycle. If you’re interested in learning more about the programs we offer, reach out to us today. Speak with an admissions counselor and let us know how we can help.