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5 steps to continue to curb the drug overdose epidemic

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In 2017, the U.S. experienced the highest rate of overdose deaths in its history. More than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) searchable database, CDC Wonder. Now, as we prepare to head into the end of 2019, there has been a significant drop in overdose deaths. 

Because of increased access to treatment programs and the wider availability of medicine like naloxone, or Narcan, Indianapolis has seen a decrease in overdose deaths, according to an article in the Indianapolis Star. Previously, drug overdose deaths in Indiana had been on the rise for almost two decades, per a report by the Indiana State Department of Health. In 2017, the state reached its highest drug overdose rate at 29.4 per 100,000, a 22% increase from 2016. In 2018, the total number of overdose deaths dropped to 361, an 11% decrease from the previous year, according to IU Public Policy Institute’s Center for Health and Justice Research. 

CareSource, a nationally recognized nonprofit health plan, is working to see results like this spread throughout the nation, as many of their members have substance use disorders, with about 5,784 in Indiana alone.

With September being National Recovery Month, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), now is the time to educate the public on the importance of treatment for substance abuse. Steve Smitherman, president of CareSource in Indiana, offers the following steps for citizens to take in order to continue to see improvements in the number of U.S. overdose deaths.

1. Educate yourself on today’s drug environment and addiction.

Legal or medically prescribed drugs, like marijuana, may make drugs seem less harmful or addictive. That is not the case. Substances today are stronger than ever and more easily accessible. In fact, marijuana is now three times stronger than it was 20 years ago, according to a Live Science article. 

Take the time to educate yourself on the facts surrounding drug use and substance use disorder. In the case of addiction, seek the best resources available and use those to determine where you can access treatment. Helpful resources include the SAMHSA website, which contains information about substance abuse, treatment types, treatment locators and more, as well the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NITA), which leads the nation in offering research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction.

2. Intervene as early as possible. 

Addiction can affect anyone, regardless of age. In fact, according to SAMHSA, an estimated 8.7 million children under the age of 18 live with at least one parent with a substance abuse disorder. The earlier parents, schools and primary care doctors can start talking about addiction with children, the better. Children are constantly exposed to social media and have likely already seen stories involving substance abuse. Start having these important conversations about substance abuse prevention early.

3. Treatment works, and medication assisted treatment remains the gold standard with opioids. 

It doesn’t matter how you get treatment. What matters is that you took that pivotal step in trying to help yourself or a loved one. 

Medication assisted treatment (MAT) is the top treatment option for opioid abuse disorder (OUD) and is considered the gold standard in addiction care. MAT combines behavioral therapy and counseling with medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that provide a holistic or whole-patient approach to dependency. The treatment, regulated by a doctor, allows those with OUD to reduce their cravings and dependency quickly to begin their recovery.

4. Realize that recovery is possible. 

Once you’ve completed the treatment phase, the next step is recovery. During this phase, it’s important to recognize who your support system is, maintain proper nutrition and work to find a job that’s meaningful and fulfilling. Keep in mind that substance use disorders are like all chronic conditions and often require repeated episodes of treatment and ongoing maintenance. While it is a long-term process, recovery from substance use disorders is possible.

5. Use technology as a resource. 

There are many mobile apps available to support the recovery process, like the Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Meeting Search app. This app shows you the closest NA meetings and support groups by area code as well as in your vicinity using your device’s GPS location. No app is a perfect fit, and any app used during recovery should be used in conjunction with treatment. In Indiana, the state has utilized the OpenBeds platform to help increase access and better coordinated care. At CareSource, this platform allows our case management staff to identify and track all behavioral inpatient and outpatient services in real-time and quickly connect members to treatment using a single, common network. 

If you know someone struggling with addiction, CareSource offers support through our 24-hour addiction hotline. Call 1-833-674-6437 to reach a Care Advocate. And finally, consider attending support groups close to home, like Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL).

Steve Smitherman is president of CareSource Indiana.

About CareSource

CareSource is a nonprofit nationally recognized as an industry leader in providing member-centric health care coverage. Founded in 1989, CareSource administers one of the nation’s largest Medicaid managed care plans. Today, CareSource offers individuals and families comprehensive health and life services including Marketplace and Medicare Advantage plans.

Headquartered in Dayton, Ohio, CareSource serves nearly 2 million members in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia and Georgia. CareSource understands the challenges consumers face navigating the health system and works to put health care in reach for those it serves.

For more, visit caresource.com, follow @caresource on Twitter, or like CareSource on Facebook.

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