State and local officials recently convened a roundtable discussion to address opioid use disorder in North Carolina and the takeaway was incredibly encouraging.
The event, which was hosted by State Attorney General Josh Stein and Wilmington’s NBC-affiliate WECT, brought together various local leaders and stakeholders. As you might suspect, it featured different viewpoints on the opioid epidemic. As you might also suspect, many of those local perspectives echoed a larger, national conversation.
That’s likely because of the over two million Americans who suffer from opioid use disorder, less than 18 percent actually receive treatment. Those aren’t our numbers, they’re from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). And they are alarming.
Everyone agrees that the country’s single greatest challenge is to get more suffering people into treatment. But how do we do it?
Opioid Use Disorder Roundtable
The room is packed with local government, law enforcement, behavioral health and court system officials. They share their experience. They share their strength. And they share their hope.
They’re also here to provide answers.
Take New Hanover County Commissioner Woody White. White believes motivation is a key element in getting individuals to participate in a treatment program.
“Recovery is for those who want it,” he says, “not for those who need it.”
It’s a widely-shared view. In fact, more than three-quarters of respondents in a 2016 national survey believe people with opioid use disorder lack self-discipline.
Shannon Lloyd however, who lost a son to an opioid overdose, offers a different take.
“There are a lot of people out there who don’t go forth and get help because they don’t have the means,” she says. “There’s also still a stigma out there.”
Attorney General Stein agrees. The AG says that the two biggest obstacles to care are money and stigma. His solution is Medicaid expansion.
“We are one of a handful of states that have refused Medicaid expansion,” says Stein. “So the single most important thing that anyone in this room can do to deal with this crisis is to urge your local representatives to say yes to expansion.”
“We have a half million folks who don’t have health insurance,” he adds.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has highlighted Medicaid expansion as part of his NC Opioid Action Plan. And studies do show it’s associated with increases in access to services and treatment for OUD and opioid overdose. Unfortunately, other lawmakers still wrongly argue that Medicaid actually makes opioid painkillers less inexpensive and easier to obtain.
How to get patients into treatment might still be causing controversy among stakeholders, but specific treatment methods are gaining consensus.
Methadone for OUD
That’s especially true of methadone. The drug was controversial when it was first introduced in the mid-20th century, but it has since gained respectability.
Kenny House is among those who approve of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). House is Vice-President of Clinical Services for Coastal Horizons Center, so he’s got firsthand knowledge.
“FDA-approved medications such as methadone and buprenorphine are all very effective with different individuals in different populations,” he says.
“Sure, there are others who find recovery without these medications,” he adds. “But I don’t think we need to focus so much on which path people take to recovery; we need to make recovery more available. Period.”
Many medical studies support methadone’s effectiveness in reducing opioid use. NIDA also claims the drug can also help patients stay in treatment for longer. That of course helps reduce the risk of overdose mortality.
House also stresses the importance of community collaboration, as well as having these types of conversations.
“We’ve never had this many players around the table work together so well,” he says. “And a lot of our progress is due to that.”
But what’s the most important factor in providing successful addiction treatment? Hope.
“We need to increase hope at all different levels so that people who take this courageous journey into recovery are fully supported and not shamed,” says House.
We at ALEF couldn’t agree more. And we wholeheartedly applaud Attorney General Stein and all the other North Carolina stakeholders who took part on this roundtable discussion. Opioid Use Disorder continues to ravage the Tar Heel State. And it is meetings like this which bring hope for everyone involved.