A new report card from the Indiana Commission to Combat Drug Abuse has suggested the state is seeing progress in the fight against the opioid epidemic.
First published by the Indianapolis Business Journal, the commission reported that Indiana has seen
a 10 percent drop in opioid painkillers prescribed during the first eight months of 2018;
doses of naloxone administered by first responders in Marion County for drug overdoses fall 22 percent in the first 10 months of this year; and
visits to emergency rooms for drug overdoses across the state starting to dip.
To its credit, it also presented counterpoints:
Indiana still has one of the highest rates of opioid painkillers prescribed in the country.
That’s still more than triple the amount of naloxone administered for all of 2012.
Some emergency physicians say they are not noticing and are still overwhelmed.
Although the information presented by the commission is being reported by countless news outlets as true progress, the facts are misleading at best.
For example, even though the Hoosier State has seen a 10 percent drop in opioid painkillers prescribed during the first eight months of 2018, it doesn’t take into consideration the number of drugs available on the black market.
According to the Cato Institute, less than 25 percent of nonmedical users of prescription opioids obtain their opioids from a doctor. Three-quarters get them from a friend, a relative, or a dealer.
Moreover, a study of more than 27,000 Oxycontin addicts found that 78 percent said the drug was never prescribed for them for any medical reason, 86 percent took the pills to get “high” or get a “buzz,” and 78 percent had a history of prior treatment for substance abuse disorder.”
The Indiana Commission to Combat Drug Abuse also “found a drop in emergency room visits for drug overdoses,” but doesn’t specify what (or how much) constitutes a “drop.” Even so, emergency room visits for drug overdoses isn’t the only kind of quantitative indicator that should measure opioid epidemic “success.”
This report card is missing an obvious statistic: deaths from opioid use or overdoses.
But the most recent data don’t paint a picture of success; instead, it’s quite the opposite.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1,840 people died of a drug overdose in Indiana in 2017, a 37 percent increase from 2015. Numbers from 2018 haven’t been reported yet, but are most likely on track to follow national trends.
The New York Times reported that in 2017, drug overdoses killed more than 70,000 Americans — a statistic higher than deaths from HIV, car crashes, and gun violence “at their peaks” — an upward trend that corresponds strongly with such a trend in the use of fentanyl.
Also, the report card from the commission presents that there has been “growth in groups formed to address the opioid issue, as well as an increase in research.” But, government proposed regulation, intervention, and other “solutions” like a state-appointed “drug czar,” have historically done little to truly solve the opioid epidemic and are slow, at best.
Finally, Indiana needs to rely on the actual facts and figures to prove “success” in combating the opioid epidemic instead of reporting “feelings” and half of the overall picture.
Presenting such a complex problem through rose-colored glasses does a disservice not only to those truly suffering from the opioid epidemic but also to those fighting on the front lines attempting to implement free market principles to a problem government has only made worse.