The record number of opioid deaths in Long Island has been broken. According to CBS New York, approximately 600 people died from an opioid overdose on Long Island in 2017, a 45-person increase since 2016 when 555 died in the epidemic.
Drug treatment advocates speaking with Newsday reported that the death toll may actually mean the opioid crisis is ebbing. Because the death increase is significantly smaller, they said, than in years past, it may be a sign that opioid treatments are having some effect.
However, death tolls related to the opioid epidemic have yet to be minor elsewhere. In 2015 alone, as many as 591,000 people suffered from heroin addiction. That same year, approximately 50,000 people across the U.S. died from a drug overdose.
In 2016, that number increased to 64,070.
“Never before has it been like it is now,” said President Donald Trump during his State of the Union address. “It is terrible. We have to do something about it. In 2016, we lost 64,000 Americans to drug overdoses — 174 deaths per day. Seven per hour.”
Although the death toll on Long Island is smaller than it could have been, it’s still higher than it was a year before. What’s more, the introduction of fentanyl into the opioid epidemic may very well turn the tides against any ground the government has gained on the problem.
However, it isn’t only fentanyl that’s driving the American opioid crisis to greater heights. According to WCPO Cincinnati, myths surrounding the opioid epidemic may very well be worsening the nation’s problem.
“It’s important to understand how destructive these urban legends, myths … can be in further stigmatizing the disease [of addiction],” said Dr. Shawn Ryan, a recovery and treatment leader at BrightView, an addiction treatment clinic.
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, addiction is a disease that involves a compulsive use of a substance despite detrimental consequences to one’s health.
“We need to get away from the word ‘detox’ because it doesn’t appropriately describe the medical process that patients go through,” said Dr. Ryan. “That should be called ‘withdrawal management.’ A diabetic may do a great job managing their diet but you don’t detox them off of their medications.”
Withdrawal can be an overwhelming and terrible experience without medication or professional help. Compared to cold symptoms, which last from 48 hours to 14 days and involve harmless respiratory problems, symptoms of withdrawal include anxiety, vomiting, depression, seizures, fatigue, and even hallucinations.
For this reason, to truly fight back against the opioid epidemic, efforts need to be made outside of the medical profession to limit access to opioid medications. Misconceptions need to be corrected and treatment processes need to be made clearly and effectively known by those suffering from substance abuse.
“We know without [a] doubt that [medically] assisted treatment for opioid use disorder is the best treatment available,” said Dr. Ryan. “Period. The studies are profound. They’re large. They’re well done. They’re very scientifically sound.” All that’s needed now is for the information on these treatments to get out there.