Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to recent provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What can we do long-term to improve the situation?
- Meet people where they are at. Help people when they are at their worst rather than wait for them to “be ready.”
- Inpatient facilities discharge challenging patients with severe mental health and behaviors and they return to the community. They utilize the emergency room and social services. When outpatients try to help them, they miss appointments and get positive drug screens. Several things can be done to help people who fall through the cracks and are in a merry-go-round of relapse and treatment. The mental health community is working of innovative approaches to help. Care managers have started being utilized to help people in the community. Jail diversion programs are expanding through the country. Emergency rooms are working to address walk-in mental health crisis. An idea for outpatients is that a clinician can be employed exclusively for clients struggling with compliance. Clients who are unable to comply with the demands of outpatient can use walk-in services.
- Communities need to establish walk-in crisis centers. These can operate much like medical urgent care, but be specially designed for mental health, addiction and social issues.
- Give people access to treatment they want. Empower people by giving them choices and knowledge so that when they are ready they know what to do and where to go. Reach out periodically to high risk people connecting them when possible to services. Care managers may keep their referred cases open for longer periods of time and revisit closed cases.
- Protect people from their risky behaviors as much as possible. Harm reduction… Narcan, clean supplies, addiction medications
- Protect children from their parent’s use. The lifestyle of addiction is traumatic for kids, but also parents. When bad things happen to kids during the parent’s use, everyone struggles with the trauma. Many parents feel guilty and ashamed and then their cycle of substance use continues. Parents need to stay in the family circle in a way that keeps everyone safe and makes them feel relevant as a parent.
- Medicate mental health. It is pretty difficult for a person to stay clean when they have severe mental health symptoms such as bipolar, schizophrenia or anxiety. It can be tricky to differentiate what symptoms are from drug use and withdrawal and what are persistent mental health symptoms. Oftentimes a person’s history is available and doctors can use a database to see past medications and diagnosis.
- Meet a person’s basic needs. Food. Shelter. Safety. Our local Open Door has a beautiful model for stabilizing a person.
- Connect people socially. Many people feel that they have no purpose and are not needed. We can create roles and jobs for people that have been overlooked. Capitalism hasn’t been kind to small business, farms, blue collar workers and small business owners. Big industries tend to use up communities then move on. People feel dispensable.
- Spread knowledge about the opioid epidemic. Empower the public to socialize with and help their family, friends, and communities.
- Offer alternatives for pain management. Require insurance to cover them.
- Offer body therapy like energy work and massage at reasonable cost and covered by insurance.