Overdose deaths are poised to overtake diabetes as the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 81,000 overdose deaths recorded in the 12 months ending in May 2020. In Louisiana, overdose deaths have jumped 50-75% from 2019 to 2020 — the largest increase in the country. Around 70% of overdose deaths involve opioids, meaning opioid-related fatalities outpace firearms and motor vehicle deaths.

These numbers only represent the tip of the iceberg — and account for the overdose deaths we know about.

The hard truth is that the majority of overdose deaths can be prevented.

Medication-assisted treatment exists that eliminates opioid withdrawals, while reducing cravings and shortening the road to recovery to as little as a week, rather than months to years. If a stressful event like COVID-19 or a hurricane happens and relapse occurs while the patient is on the medicine, overdose can be prevented. Instead of euphoria, guilt sets in. Patients have an increased likelihood of jumping back into the recovery process and getting back on track.

Cycle eliminated.

In Lafayette Parish alone, 75 clinicians (according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration) can prescribe buprenorphine after a patient evaluation. Unfortunately, the process of scheduling an appointment is not as easy as setting up a wellness exam, and few providers accept insurance. Instead, many operate on a cash-only basis, charging about $200 per month.

The cash-only cost often limits patient access to care and can sabotage patients’ ability to stabilize. Additionally, multiple issues abound at pharmacies and insurance providers, often creating red tape to access the prescription. Luckily, well-organized, thoughtful programs across the country have developed a path for patients to get past the cost hurdles and move toward recovery from opioid addiction. In some places, nonprofit organizations provide access to buprenorphine so it is not a cost issue for patients or clinicians.

In Louisiana, all Medicaid plans pay for the service. Buprenorphine is difficult to come by, but it allows patients the chance to live productive lives. The chaos that is addiction comes to a stop.

In short, we can do better.

In the pandemic, dangerous opioid usage has increased substantially while an evidenced-based solution exists. Can we take the steps to deliver it?

In the midst of the two greatest crises of our generation, communities across the state have the opportunity to rise to the occasion.

MARK DECLOUET

psychiatric nurse practitioner

Lafayette