Guest blog by Julie Pittman MD PhD
Nexus Recovery Center
It would be hard to argue that there is any issue more pressing in the public health arena than the opioid crisis. It has reached epidemic proportions and now costs the U.S. more than $78.4 billion per year in healthcare treatment costs, criminal justice costs and lost productivity.
The U.S. consumes more opioid pain medication than any other country on Earth, and drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death in Americans under 50. Drug overdose deaths have outpaced motor vehicle accidents and gun homicides combined, killing Americans at a faster pace than the HIV epidemic did at its peak. These statistics have spurred multiple governmental entities to name this the DEFINING EPIDEMIC OF OUR GENERATION.
The roots of the opioid crisis lie in the overprescription of pain medication that started in the 1990s with the campaign to advocate for the more effective treatment of pain. Physicians were targeted in the pharmaceutical marketing of pain medications as safe and effective. Pain was made the “fifth vital sign” in hospitals and clinics, and the numbers of prescriptions written for narcotics soared.
Recent efforts to curtail prescriptions for opioids have led to a leveling off of prescription drug overdoses. As addicts make the switch to heroin, however, the death toll has accelerated markedly secondary to the arrival of fentanyl in the heroin supply. Starting in 2014, there was noted to be a 250 percent increase in fentanyl seizures in drugs coming over the Mexican border. The numbers are sobering: 140 American die each day of opioid overdose.
Nexus is unique in the community as we provide women only treatment to low-income women with their unique health risks. We care for adult and adolescent women, pregnant and post partum women, and provide a safe place to seek treatment for women who do not want to be away from their children. We have withdrawal stabilization services for clients as well as long-term residential care and outpatient services for continued care after discharge back into the community. We partner with Parkland Hospital System to provide care for the unique health issues that arise in our indigent population. We also partner in research and education activities with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in their involvement in the Clinical Trials Network. As the Nexus Medical Director, I am board certified in Psychiatry and Addiction Psychiatry and completed my residency at Harvard Medical School.
The history of drug treatment in the U.S. has been based on psychosocial treatment alone, which has been shown to be relatively ineffective for opioid users. There is a 94% relapse rate without additional medical intervention. At Nexus, we are looking to be on the cutting edge of evidence-based medicine in order to improve outcomes for our vulnerable patient population. We are expanding to include medication-assisted therapies for opioid users to optimize the ability of the clients to build productive lives from the ruins of their addiction. Their stories and successes make every struggle worthwhile. It is a privilege to be in a position to help these amazing women and I consider myself fortunate to be the Medical Director at such an amazing institution.
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