Against the backdrop of the growing opioid crisis in the United States, the capacity of available treatment programs does not meet demand. As a result, people in need of treatment for heroin addiction or prescribed painkillers should wait months, sometimes even years, to receive appointments with certified doctors or to find slots in rehabilitation programs. While waiting to consult with experts, they are at risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis, as well as by overdose death.
To deal with the risks associated with opiates in people waiting to treat addiction, Dr. Stacy Sigmon and her colleagues at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Vermont have proposed a new therapeutic approach. They have developed an interim treatment that can help reduce the use of illicit opioids and injecting drugs among waiting patients.
The intervention proposed by Sigmon will save patients from frequent visits to a doctor or clinic. Opiate addiction treatment fights with buprenorphine, a drug approved by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and an electronic dispenser that provides a single daily dose. The mechanism includes locks and warnings to ensure medical compliance and prevent tampering. It also has an automated phone-based surveillance system and randomized callback visits for the number of tablets and inspection tests. This is a temporary agreement for patients waiting for opiate treatment to allow them to start taking medication immediately while waiting for a comprehensive program.
The 12-week experience aimed at establishing the effectiveness of the intervention showed positive results. The study found that intermediate buprenorphine helps participants in opioid-dependent pending waiting to withstand the use of illegal drugs. Researchers have recommended temporary therapy as an effective approach to helping patients prevent potential fatal dangers from opiate use while waiting for an intensive care program.
The US opiate crisis
The epidemic of opiates affects millions in the country. The National Drug and Health Survey (NSDUH) for 2016 suggests that 11.8 million Americans aged 12 or over are abusing opiates during the year. The country reported the highest opiate abuse among young adults aged 18-25, registering an annual rate of 7.3% over the past year. The opiate epidemic claims thousands of lives every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opiate abuse – heroin, fentanyl and prescription drugs – led to 33,091 deaths in 2015. Additionally, non-fatal involuntary opiate poisoning contributed to about 53,000 hospitalizations and 92,262 emergency departments (ED) visits across the country.
Heroin, in particular, has woken up in recent years. The CDC reported a twofold increase in heroin use among young adults aged 18 to 25 over the last decade. With increased drug use, heroin-related deaths also grew significantly, with four times more than in 2010. Heroin-related mortality increased by 20.6% between 2014 and 2015, with around 13,000 people die of the same only in 2015
Dealing with heroin abuse
Researchers point to a strong link between past opioid abuse and the onset of heroin use. In addition, official data show that more than 90 percent of people who have used heroin have also reported that they have used at least one other drug. Increased availability and relatively low cost (compared to prescribed opioids) are some of the common factors that contribute to the increasing use of heroin. Strong action against drug dealers and educating people about the dangerous consequences of using heroin can help tackle the problem.