“Opioid death rate plunges 41 percent in Florida county at center of epidemic,” reported the Sun Sentinel in January about the efforts of Palm Beach County officials to combat the opioid epidemic. That’s good news for a county that recorded 558 opioid deaths in 2017.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean the addiction crisis is over. Blaming one particular substance for the continuous increase in drug overdose deaths in America and then focusing most of the effort on reducing access to that one type of addictive substance can only go so far.
While opioid misuse may have peaked in Florida and nationwide, users have been switching to other substances. Before the opioid crisis, methamphetamine—especially in the form of crystal meth—was “cooked” in homemade labs across America, particularly in economically deprived rural areas.
“The scourge of crystal meth, with its exploding labs and ruinous effect on teeth and skin, has been all but forgotten amid national concern over the opioid crisis,” the New York Times reported last year. “But 12 years after Congress took aggressive action to curtail it, meth has returned with a vengeance.” It certainly has in Florida.
“Just six years ago meth was discovered in the bodies of 146 people who died across the state. That number spiked four-fold in 2016 when, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s annual report, meth was found in 621 people who died,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported in October. In the first six months of 2017, “meth — which often mixed with other drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine — showed up in the bodies of 414 people who died in Florida, according to the report.”
And today’s meth has been upgraded: “Much of what’s being sold is no longer low-grade methamphetamine home-cooked in some ramshackle Florida trailer park,” the Miami Herald reported in December 2017. “Instead, the meth being seized in South Florida is high-grade crystal concocted in “super labs” south of the United States border, then smuggled in as part of Mexican cartels’ efforts to expand into East Coast markets, according to law enforcement authorities.”
Drug overdose deaths nationwide involving psychostimulants—including methamphetamine—have been increasing dramatically in the last few years:
As NPR noted in June, the federal government has given out at least $2.4 billion in state grants since 2017, “in hopes of stemming an opioid epidemic that killed 47,600 people” in that year alone. But state officials point out that drug addiction problems seldom involve only one substance. “According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 states—including California, Pennsylvania, and Texas—have reported that opioids were involved in fewer than half of their total drug overdose deaths in 2017.”
Addiction professionals have warned again and again that we need to pay more attention to the question why so many Americans struggle with substance use disorders instead of simply trying to reduce the availability of certain illicit drugs. Substance use disorder is a complex biopsychosocial disease, often driven by underlying mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and unprocessed trauma. If these co-occurring conditions are not addressed as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment plan, the chances of a successful recovery are remote.
“The United States has a serious substance misuse problem,” was the opening statement of the groundbreaking 2016 report by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on alcohol, drugs, and health. The report was entitled “Facing Addiction in America,” not “Facing the Opioid Crisis.” Murthy suggested we need “a major cultural shift in the way we think about, talk about, look at, and act toward people with substance use disorders.”
Instead of starting yet another futile war on drugs, Murthy recommended “addressing substance use disorders with a public health model that focuses on reducing both health and social justice disparities”… “for the health and well-being of all Americans.”
Addressing polysubstance abuse and the underlying causes of mental health and substance use disorders are fundamental aspects of the Futures Behavioral Healthcare clinical approach. Futures emphasizes the importance of integrated treatment to address complex, individual experiences of addiction and dysfunction. Through holistic approaches to individualized treatment, the program works to establish a strong foothold in recovery, resilience, and a trajectory of continuing care and support.
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