Canaan CT – The Center for Disease Control reported that drug overdose deaths are continuing to rise. In some states, overdose deaths have surpassed those due to automobile accidents. According to the 2019 Global Drug Survey, the increase in overdose deaths can be tied in part to smartphones. Hand-held devices have made it easier for people to purchase addictive substances using encrypted messages and social media platforms. While access to addictive substances has increased, access to treatment has not kept up with the demand and remains out of reach for far too many people in need. Mountainside treatment center has compiled a list of addiction-related topics that could make headlines this year, all of which will have impact on struggling communities and individuals.
1. Legalization of recreational marijuana and the increase in addiction rate. On the first day of the year, legal marijuana sales began in Illinois, making it the 11th state to make the drug available for recreational use to adults over 21. It is expected that by the end of 2020, 15 states will have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Many elected officials who support legalization said that it will allow them to control the strength of the substance as well as increase tax revenue to help solve budget woes.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse states that marijuana is currently the most commonly used addictive substance — but it is too early to tell if legalization will impact its prevalence positively or negatively. However, the addictive nature of marijuana is not a mystery. A 2016 report issued by the Annual Review of Medicine states that approximately one in ten adult users of marijuana develops addiction, and this number is even higher among adolescents. While the lifetime dependence rate of marijuana is lower than the rates of other drugs, marijuana dependence is one of the most prevalent, after alcohol and tobacco dependence.
2. Impact of Ban on Flavored E-Cigarettes on Youth who Vape. A recent study by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that one in four high school students have used an e-cigarette — or vaped — within a 30 day period. In an effort to curtail their use by young people, a federal ban on the sale of most flavored e-cigarette cartridges will go into effect at the end of January. The FDA is specifically banning cartridge-based nicotine pods like Juul.
Health officials fear that the ban of fruit flavored products will result in young people switching to menthol and tobacco flavored e-cigarettes, which are excluded from the ban. It is therefore important that community leaders know how to educate schools and families on how they can best talk to youth in their care about vaping and its health risks. For youth who already struggle with an addiction to vaping, treatment options need to be explored and made available.
3. Lack of addiction treatment facilities and trained professionals. As the country continues to struggle with the impact of the opioid crisis, the number of treatment facilities available to care for people in need has not increased. According to a National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services, the total number of substance abuse treatment facilities remained stable between 2008 and 2018. In some parts of the country, people struggling with addiction have nowhere locally to access effective treatment or even physicians who can prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction, with rural counties being the hardest hit.
But recently passed legislation can bring urgently needed care to people struggling with addiction. The Opioid Workforce Act of 2019 would add 1,000 more federally-funded residencies in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, and pain medicine.
4. Treatment gap for adolescents who struggle with opioid addiction. While the number of adults who struggle with addiction and cannot access treatment is alarmingly high, it is even more dire for people between the ages of 12 and 25 to find help. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 3.6 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 to 17 reported misusing opioids over the course of a year. This percentage is twice as high among older adolescents 18 to 25. But only one-third of teens and young adults who overdosed on opioids and survived received evidence-based addiction treatment, according to a 2019 study by the JAMA Pediatrics.
Because pediatricians play a critical role in providing health care to this age group, a concerted effort is needed to give them the tools and resources they need to prevent and detect substance use among youth.
Smartphones and the internet have made it even easier for people to find, purchase, and use substances that can lead to addiction. Without access to effective treatment, many addicted individuals face an increased risk of overdose and death. The sooner actions — starting with legislation and proper funding — are taken to ensure that people in need can receive care, the more lives will be spared.