Today the Department of Justice announced the creation of a Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force, to fight the prescription opioid crisis. The press release promises this task force will "aggressively deploy and coordinate all available criminal and civil law enforcement tools to reverse the tide of opioid overdoses in the United States, with a particular focus on opioid manufacturers and distributors".

Finally.

This crisis in our country is of epidemic proportions, and quickly getting worse. I've witnessed this first-hand both personally and professionally at a level way too close for comfort. The daughter of a close friend giving birth to a heroin-addicted baby. Physicians being threatened, or worse, actually shot by patients in desperation and frustration when suffering from chronic pain, yet clearly unable to appropriately deal with addiction problems.

In 2016, According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), opioid-related overdoses kill 90 people in the U.S. each day, while opioid poisonings cost the nation more than $20 billion annually in emergency department and hospital care.

In the DOJ press release it is reported that "Every day, 180 Americans die from drug overdoses. This epidemic actually lowered American life expectancy in 2015 and 2016 for the first time in decades, with drug overdose now the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50."

Let's step back for a moment and takes a look at the current state of affairs in nations where drug problems have gone unaddressed. It is not pretty. A crisis this of this magnitude, if left to fester and grow, will move from industry to industry ultimately crippling our nation.

Take Mexico, for example whose oil refineries are now crippled by that nation's drug cartels.

In the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2016 World Report the following is reported about Iran and Afghanistan:

Iran is a den of inequity for multiple drug issues, serving as a hub for trafficking and for cultivation. In fact, due to its location next to Afghanistan (the world’s top producer of opium), Iran is consistently listed as having one of the highest proportions of drug addicts. Additionally, Iran serves as a breeding ground for multiple drug crises for Heroin and Methamphetamines. An interesting note, there is a strong juxtaposition of women’s role seen when within Iran. While consistently having issues for equality in the countries’ state of affairs, women are heavily involved in the cultivation of the opium poppy. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Iran accounted for 75 percent of the world's opium seizures and 61 percent of global morphine seizures in 2014, as well as 17 percent of global heroin seizures. Approximately 35 percent of the heroin trafficked from Afghanistan transits Iran, both for domestic consumption and further export to international markets. While these are strong efforts to combat the issues, Iran still has issues containing this problem and although Iran’s interdiction efforts along its eastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan are extensive, joint investigations with international law enforcement partners remain rare.

Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer in opium and therefore suffers from widespread illegal drug use. Drug use among women and children is among the highest documented worldwide and 30.6 percent of households tested positive for some form of illicit drug. These statistics portend a massive health crisis, something Afghans are gradually acknowledging. The problem however remains largely unaddressed. Despite the government’s adoption of National Drug Action Plan (NDAP), it has been slow to implement it. According to the US report, the major problem with majorly depreciating Afghanistan’s drug production is the lack of civilian acknowledgment of narcotics being a civilian issue.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through its Agency for Healthcare and Research Administration (AHRQ) - has for years now had an initiative to research and find solutions to address the opioid crisis, yet hospitalizations for opioid overdoses remains on the rise.

The HHS 5-Point Strategy To Combat the opioids crisis includes:

  • Better addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery services
  • Better data
  • Better research
  • Better targeting of overdose-reversing drugs
  • Better pain management

Current research through the AHRQ in Medication-Assisted Treatment Models and increasing access to the same in Primary care practices is promising, and a critical area of needed attention and funding to resolve the current crisis.

Intervention on a federal level alone, however, will not be enough. Healthcare mergers among the big players in the healthcare industry have become increasingly common. These organizations need to be challenged to step up to the plate, and help tackle these challenges. Left ignored, a crisis that affects our nation's healthcare system so pervasively, is a sword that will have devastating impact to these companies profit margins as well. Let us not, as a nation, allow the opioid crisis to lead to the unraveling of our society as drug problems have done in other nations.