As deaths from overdoses reach record highs, there’s another statistic that’s almost as troubling. Of the 27 million people in the United States suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, only 11% get rehab treatment.
Stories of the startling rise in heroin use and meth production in homes across America dominate the headlines. For years, many experts have argued that focusing on the reasons behind substance abuse and treating addiction is a better use of resources than cracking down on dealers and measuring death rates.
The steadily rising rate of drug use, related arrests, overdoses and deaths suggest they may be right. Despite heavily investing in drug-control efforts, illicit drug use in the U.S. rose from 31.3% in 1979 to 48.8% in 2015 according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. There are 11 times more people (469,545) in jail or prison for drug offenses in 2015 compare to 1980. Overdose deaths have more than tripled between 2000 and 2015.
As the U.S. government cracked down on drugs the stigma surrounding them grew. From an early age people in their 20s, 30s and 40s were told to just say no to drugs. If you give in and say yes, you’re marked as a black sheep.
It’s a problem that’s seen all to often at Landmark Rehabilitation Center in Kentucky, a state that has the third highest overdose death rate in the country. Patients cite a number of reasons for not seeking help sooner or doing so on their own. Many times social stigma is a factor. Landmark is among a number of rehab centers across the U.S. that are trying to make rehabilitation accepted in society so people get the help they need.
Prescription opioid painkillers are playing a pivotal role in both the increase of drug addiction and low rehab rates. Because they’re legally made and prescribed by doctors, some people fail to use the same level of caution as they would with illicit drugs. When prescription painkillers are taken for medical purposes patients have to work with their doctor to scale down the dosage as quickly as possible.
Few people realize how easy it is to become addicted to prescribed medications, which is why so many people who have never used drugs before find themselves dependent on an opioid. People fail to seek out help because they don’t want to be given the label addict. Some even see the continued use as a medical necessity.
Unfortunately, research suggests that failing to seek rehabilitation can lead to more drug use. Opioid painkillers are a gateway drug for another opioid – heroin. Addicts move from painkillers to heroin because it’s much cheaper yet produces the same type of high.
The heroin epidemic has been most notable in the northeast region of the U.S. A survey of data from Rice University found that today 90% of new heroin users are white. Many come from middle class families and have a good education.
The problem is even more stark when drug use data is examined from around the world. A recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that worldwide the drug use rate has remained steady – with one exception. Heroin use in the U.S. has increased by 145% since 2007. Globally, opioid use is relatively flat.
As the number of illicit drug users increase, the number of people seeking treatment isn’t following suit. The five states with the highest percentage of adults with unmet drug treatment needs are:
- Washington, D. C.
- Rhode Island
The states with the lowest number of people receiving drug rehab treatment per 100,000 addicts are:
- West Virginia
- New Mexico
The data proves lack of drug treatment is a widespread problem across the U.S. Under the Obama administration the federal government was increasing funds to support drug treatment programs. However, the Trump Administration has called for cutting the budget for the Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95%.
Studies have repeatedly shown early intervention is key to overcoming addiction. There are also factors that are known to increase a person’s likelihood of becoming addicted. Mental illness, traumatic childhood experience and economic instability are all predictors. As long as society continues to stigmatize drug addiction rather than treating it like the epidemic it is, many people won’t receive the help they need.