The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week that drug overdoses killed more than 70,000 Americans last year, setting a record. That number would have been worse had it not been for a parallel increase in the treatments that revive those who have overdosed. You will not find many police, fire or rescue personnel without those supplies and you will find them in places that only a few years ago would have been unthinkable, most notably libraries.
Some reports this fall showed another deadly drug, methamphetamines, were responsible for an increasing number of fatalities in some locations but that statistic held its own tragic truth because addicts are increasingly using meth to counteract the effects of heroin.
Even with so many being revived, with a lack of treatment facilities available, they are more likely to head back to the same cycle of use, abuse and overdose.
That should inspire more urgency than we have seen so far in the effort to transform the old Holiday Inn off Crystal Run Road in the Town of Wallkill into the Resource Recovery Center to treat those with addictions. It has had to follow a very deliberate, slow path. As one person in favor of the project noted, there have been 343 overdoses in Orange County while the center navigated multiple levels of municipal approval.
There is no question that this cycle of addiction can be traced to the overprescription of powerful drugs. If governments could monitor who was getting drugs and determine who was getting more than necessary, enforcement could have a chance to keep new patients from becoming new addicts.
But as an audit from the state comptroller showed this week, state opioid treatment programs are not always checking the registry established to keep people from getting more medication than they should. There are some complications involved, especially some federal laws that require a patient’s consent to share information about prescription history. But even when the programs had the ability to check they did not always do so. The audit by the comptroller covered four years and found that about 18,700 people, which made up about a third of those on Medicaid who were in treatment programs, were getting prescription opioids outside of the ones they were receiving as part of their treatment.
The fact that only 3 percent needed treatment for an overdose and only 12 died seems more like luck than anything else. And the audit also showed that records were checked for only about two-thirds of a sample of patients chosen because they were receiving large numbers of opioid prescriptions.
The goal of such an audit is to make the public and lawmakers aware of how well we are doing even when we think we have laws and procedures in place to help cut down on the supply of opioids.
What we need as well is a better handle on the other, crucial part of the public response, the availability of programs which combine medical treatment for in- and out-patients and that are both affordable and available.
We need to use the tools we have. We need to move faster.