From 1999 to 2017, more than 702,000 people in the U.S. had died from a drug overdose, and in 2017, the country experienced the highest rate of overdose deaths in its history. More than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, starting in 2018, the U.S. experienced the first decline in drug overdose deaths in nearly three decades, with a 4.1% decrease since 2017, per a CDC report. Indiana in particular has seen a 12% decline, according to Kristi Carney, the behavioral health manager at CareSource, a nationally recognized nonprofit health plan.
This decrease can be attributed to several items, including increased access to treatment programs, the wider availability of medicine like naloxone, or Narcan, an increased number of providers, and the Indiana Overdose Response Program, a project conducted by the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) with funding from the CDC. The program assessed the current county-level capabilities and response readiness of local health departments and county stakeholders to overdose events, in order for Indiana counties to be prepared.
CareSource is working to see results like this spread throughout the nation and have found there are five key actions that can positively impact the number of U.S. overdose deaths.
1. Educate yourself about the Opioid Crisis.
Take the time to educate yourself on the facts surrounding drug use and substance use disorders. Know that addiction is a long-term chronic disease. Seek the best resources available and use those to determine where you can access treatment. Helpful resources include the SAMHSA website, which contains information about substance abuse, treatment types, treatment locators and more, as well the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NITA), which leads the nation in offering research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction.
CareSource also directs many of their providers to “Know the O Facts,” a guide provided by the state of Indiana and Next Level Recovery that contains important resources, including the addiction hotline and treatment providers in the state.
2. Recognize that treatment, not detox, works.
One of the most important items CareSource stresses is that treatment does work. There needs to be active treatment, supportive treatment and recovery management during the course of someone’s treatment plan in order for it to be effective.
Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the top treatment option for opioid abuse disorder (OUD) and is considered the gold standard in addiction care. MAT combines behavioral therapy and counseling with medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that provide a holistic or whole-patient approach to dependency. The treatment, regulated by a doctor, allows those with a substance use disorder to reduce their cravings and dependency quickly to begin their recovery.
It also needs to be recognized that detox is important, but it’s not treatment. If you detox without treatment, you risk overdose, as the tolerance level rises fast and immediately drops back down to zero. Therapy is a critical part of recovery; so, do not coordinate a detox unless you, or someone you know, is willing to go through treatment as well.
3. Stress whole person care, especially for populations that need help the most.
Good treatment is not only focused on substance abuse. Rather, a good treatment plan focuses on someone’s mental and physical health as well, according to Jonas Thom, the vice president of behavioral health at CareSource. It really is about whole person care. For example, people addressing their addiction might not be employed. Therefore, a strong combination of care coordination and focusing on a person’s specific social determinants of health is critical.
CareSource and its partner providers across the state work to develop this type of treatment, and Indiana does have integrated treatment centers, where the treatment teams provide both mental health and substance abuse interventions in an integrated fashion. Indiana has prioritized mental health and drug and alcohol treatment and the needs of people who are often forgotten by policy makers, contributing to the decline in drug overdose rates. This has helped drive attention to specific populations who have an opportunity for special engagement and care. This includes formerly incarcerated individuals, who are 40% more likely to die from an opioid overdose than the average citizen two weeks after release, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health.
4. Realize that recovery is possible.
Once you’ve completed the treatment phase, the next step is recovery. During this phase, it’s important to recognize who your support system is, maintain proper nutrition and work to find a meaningful and fulfilling activity such as a job. Keep in mind that substance use disorders are like all chronic conditions and often require repeated episodes of treatment and ongoing maintenance. While it is a long-term process, recovery from substance use disorders is possible.
5. Use technology as a resource.
There are many mobile apps available to support the recovery process, like the Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Meeting Search app. This app shows you the closest NA meetings and support groups by area code as well as in your vicinity using your device’s GPS location. No app is a perfect fit, and any app used during recovery should be used in conjunction with treatment. In Indiana, the state has utilized the OpenBeds platform to help increase access and better coordinated care. CareSource was the first health care plan to engage with OpenBeds. This platform allows our case management staff to identify and track all behavioral inpatient and outpatient services in real-time and quickly connect members to treatment using a single, common network.
If you know someone struggling with addiction, CareSource offers support through our 24-hour addiction hotline. Call 1-833-674-6437 to reach a Care Advocate. And finally, consider attending support groups close to home, like Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL).