Is the Opioid Crisis Getting Better?

In late 2018, an opioid response act, officially known as the SUPPORT Act, was passed into law. Since then, there has been much debate over whether the country is any better off. Is the opioid epidemic decreasing? Have opioid prescription rates gone down? What is the status of the opioid epidemic in the United States today and what does it mean for employers and the general population?

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These questions touch the lives of many people beyond those suffering from addiction issues. This includes family members, medical professionals, and even the employers who are tasked with making sure their workplaces remain safe.

Keep reading to learn about the status of the opioid epidemic in the United States today and what it means for employers and the general population.

Are Opioid Overdoses Decreasing?

For many years, the number of opioid-related deaths in the U.S. has climbed relentlessly. Now, it seems that legislation like the opioid response act has finally started to have an impact.

From 2017 to 2018, the trend line finally reversed, reflecting a 4.1% decline in total opioid overdose deaths. This marks the first decrease in over two decades. While this is great news, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Overdoses from heroin and natural and synthetic opioids, like hydrocodone and oxycodone were both down. Death rates from heroin decreased by 4%. Overdose deaths from prescription opioids were down by 13.5%. However, deaths from overdoses of synthetic opioids like fentanyl actually increased by 10%.

These statistics indicate that while the current legislation is helping, more must still be done to curb the opioid epidemic in the United States.

The Impact on U.S. Employers

Drug use among employees is always a concern for responsible employers. One of the most concerning issues is the increase in injuries and workers’ compensation claims. It can also cause higher absenteeism, decreased productivity, high employee turnover, increased healthcare costs, and even workplace violence.

At one time, employees suffering from chronic pain were one of the most vulnerable groups. Prescription drug treatment for injuries was one of the biggest concerns when it came to the possible development of opioid addiction. However, now that opioid prescription rates are down, recreational opioid use has taken center stage.

Thoroughly screening employment candidates during the hiring process can help curb this. However, based on the statistics previously mentioned, drug tests must be capable of detecting a wide range of opioids. Testing for heroin and other commonly prescribed medications is no longer enough.

An extremely comprehensive test, like Health Street’s 16-Panel Opiate Drug Test, gives employers the best chances of detecting all possible opioid abuses. Some of the substances it tests for include:

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Hydrocodone
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Oxycodone
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OxyContin
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Fentanyl
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Suboxone
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Demerol
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Tramadol

The addition of the most common synthetic opioids makes this test one of the most thorough pre-employment screening tests on the market. Using less-comprehensive tests could result in a synthetic opioid user slipping through the cracks. It’s clear that this can potentially cause problems within the workplace.

Employers choose to administer drug tests for a reason, so it only makes sense to use one that will register a wide variety of potentially dangerous drugs.

What is Being Done to Stop the Opioid Crisis?

While the SUPPORT Act was an excellent start, it’s clear that the opioid epidemic isn’t going away anytime soon. Much more still needs to be done to continue curbing opioid addiction and overdoses.

In April of 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a “5-Point Strategy to Combat the Opioid Crisis.” This plan described the comprehensive approach that must be taken to overcome the opioid epidemic. It includes improvements in addiction prevention, treatment options, and recovery services. Other points to be addressed include improved data management and reporting, better research, better pain management options, and improvements in overdose-reversing drugs.

Since the release of this document, the United States government has actively provided the funding needed to support many of these efforts. In September of 2019, the Trump administration announced a $1.8 billion funding package for additional actions to help curb opioid abuse in the United States.

These funds will be distributed to state and local governments for the purpose of expanding access to opioid addiction treatment and reporting overdose data in as close to real-time as possible.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also announced an initiative that included $900 million in funding over three years. This initiative is aimed at advancing the understanding of the current epidemic and increasing prevention and response efforts.

Thanks to initiatives like this, it’s likely that the number of opioid deaths in the United States may continue to decline. Thanks to improved awareness, faster access to information, and better treatment for those struggling with addiction, there seems to finally be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Citations

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“New Data Show Significant Changes in Drug Overdose Deaths.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 18 March 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/p0318-data-show-changes-overdose-deaths.html
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“Trump Administration Announces $1.8 Billion in Funding to States to Continue Combating Opioid Crisis.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2019/09/04/trump-administration-announces-1-8-billion-funding-states-combating-opioid.html
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” SUPPORT Act for Opioid Recovery: Effects on Healthcare and Clinicians.” ICA Notes, 4 January 2019, https://www.icanotes.com/2019/01/04/support-act-for-opioid-recovery-effects-on-healthcare-and-clinicians/
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