The discussion, despair and frustration of America’s addiction epidemic only intensified and grew louder throughout 2017. As an unfortunate explanation point, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that 63,600 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2016- an average of 174 a day. Thoughts are that those numbers will only increase once the 2017 numbers are reported in the future (thus far, the CDC only has number through May.) Those numbers are a staggering statistic and clearly only demonstrate the tip of the iceberg, as millions more Americans are directly impacted by addiction, alcoholism and substance use disorder and the numbers only increase when factoring in the number of families and communities negatively impacted daily by the scourge of it.

In 2017 the American conversation regarding the addiction epidemic turned into a clamor, with television, newspaper and magazine stories covering the topic regularly. Not a day went by without a news story regarding addiction and its impact on American communities throughout the country. But while the conversation grew, the epidemic continued to rise and the problem got worse. It reached levels of national importance and we as a nation talked still. Yet the epidemic shows little signs of slowing down. As we close out 2017, it is time to look towards the future and stop the talking and focus on action. It is time to focus on solutions on how to fix America’s biggest health crisis. As we enter the new year of 2018, it is time for action. We as a society have to do better, we must do better if we are going to come together and end this pandemic that is destroying our families and communities.

What is most unacceptable in the midst of this crisis is that addiction is treatable and most of those people in need of addiction treatment are not receiving it. Part of it is the social stigma associated with it, part of it is the shame felt by the individual suffering, part of it is the approach that society takes towards addiction and part of it is the lack of access to treatment available to those in need.

As 2018 begins, we must take steps to improve our approach to addiction or else the numbers of impacted individuals, families and communities will rise and more loved ones will be lost to overdose, suicide or, at best, a life of hopelessness and despair. So what can we do? What MUST we do as a country to combat and overcome this public health issue ravaging our communities?

First, we need to all come together and acknowledge addiction is a disease and a health issue, not a moral failing or an act of criminality. We need to take steps to educate society as a whole about the disease of addiction as a health issue, so that the shame does not keep individuals and families silent and does not act as a barrier for them to seek life-saving help. We need to advertise, educate and outreach our communities on what it is and how it can be treated. Those individuals in recovery need to overcome their own obstacles and speak out about their own personal recovery. The more people talk about their recovery, the more society begins to see addiction as a health issue that impacts all races, colors, creeds, sexual orientations, geographic areas and socioeconomic status. The more people speak out about their own recovery, the more those individuals and families suffering can begin to identify and then believe that recovery is possible.

We need to stop treating addiction is a crime and begin to treat it as a health issue. We need to stop locking up those suffering from substance use disorder and rather create avenues where they can access treatment. The War on Drugs was an epic failure. It is now time to take a different, helpful and loving approach to those in need.

We need policy makers to act and fund more treatment so that those in need can access it.

We need our law enforcement, emergency response professionals and hospital staffs to be educated and trained in addiction, how to access resources for those in need and equipped with naloxone to saves the lives of overdose victims. We need to equip other institutions and professionals and community members with naloxone and training on identifying an overdose and saving a life.

We need our government to act in and enforce regulation related to the pharmaceutical industry and the health insurance industry. Big Pharma cannot be allowed to hike up the prices of live-saving medication for profit and the health insurance companies must begin to adhere to parity and begin paying for the necessary amount of long-term treatment. And we need our government and law enforcement to take action against those individuals and organizations that have had a hand in profiting off of addiction- pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, doctors and treatment centers that have put profits ahead of the well-being of Americans.

We need to enforce more education for doctors and medical professionals regarding addiction, making it a major part of their education, standard training in all medical schools and necessary for ongoing education.

We need colleges and universities to create more collegiate recovery programs and provide college health centers and counseling centers as many resources as necessary to deal with college students suffering from addiction as well as offering college students in recovery the necessary support needed.

Local governments need to begin to cut through the red tape that allows for more access to treatment programs to open up and serve their communities, but also enact necessary legislation to oversee treatment programs so that unethical and illegal practices are not allowed to continue. On that end, more legislation and prosecution needs to take place by government and law enforcement agencies within the treatment space, where operators are held to the highest standards of patient care and those that are not are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

We need local middle and high schools to overcome much of the fear of talking about mental health issues that has existed for so long and begin educating students and families about addiction at the earliest possible time, while equipping schools and their communities about the available resources for families in need.

Finally, as a treatment industry, we must begin to earn back the trust of the American community by holding ourselves and our colleagues to the highest possible ethical, business and clinical standards. For far too long the rehab industry allowed itself to operate in silos, sticking our heads in the sand while we knew operators were continuing to do patients and families a disservice by offering substandard care. We need to stop putting dollar signs in front of patient care. We need to begin to seamlessly operate with each other collaboratively, so that the true long-term continuum of care we know works actually occurs. We need to stop cutting corners in terms of clinical, medical and psychiatric coverage. We need to come together and do away with the organizations that support and further patient brokering, paying for patient leads, other unethical marketing and advertising tactics or not offering the services they claim to do. We must begin to treat the family unit as a whole and make sure that is a standard of care for the industry. We must become an industry of collaborators that adhere to the highest standard of ethical operations and clinical care and move away from the industry that we have become- one where more money is spent on marketing to get heads in beds rather than sprent on improving clinical treatment services and thriving on high quality patient care and clinical services. Finally, we as an industry need to do our part in the advocacy movement to influence change and policy on the state and federal level. Deciding to work in the addiction treatment industry means that there is a social responsibility inherent in that decision and we need to take up the torch to create the necessary changes in America that will help overcome this epidemic. After all, who knows better or is more informed?

For far too long America has swept addiction under the rug. It is great that addiction has reached the level of a national conversation but the time of talk must end and we must begin to take action. It is treatable and the overdose deaths reported by the CDC are preventable. The devastation from it felt by individuals, families and communities has gone on for too long, with too little action taking place. Thus far, the deaths have been avoidable and our response has unacceptable. We must take action on all fronts to begin to turn the tide of the addiction epidemic destroying America. The numbers are rising and the crisis is getting worse. Words are important but action creates change. We as Americans need to act. If we don’t, it will only get worse. As a society, we have to do better and we have to do better immediately.

If you or someone you know is in need of help because of drug and/or alcohol abuse or addiction, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs.

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