Education, understanding can help save lives of addicts

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Science has proven that opioid addiction is a chronic illness that should be treated with the same skill and compassion as high blood pressure and diabetes.

The numbers for overdoses in the Lowcountry is at an all-time high and keeps rising. The President's Commission on the Opioid Crisis recently reported that approximately 142 Americans are dying every day from the opioid epidemic.

Some of the Commission's recommendations include:

  • Encouraging the prescription of non-opioid pain relievers
  • Encouraging first responders to carry naloxone, the drug used to reverse opiate overdose
  • Increasing the use of medication assisted treatments (MAT), which employs behavioral therapy, education and medicines like methadone and Suboxone

Medication Assisted Treatment is scientifically proven to be the most effective way to reduce overdoses and deaths of those suffering with opioid addiction. The Surgeon General, along with leading experts in the medical field, agree that MAT is the treatment that produces the best results.

Patients who could benefit from this treatment face discrimination, bias and lack of support, often with deadly results. Misinformation, myths and outright lies often steer people away from this potentially lifesaving treatment.

Support is an important variable for success in recovery. Strong, misguided opinions can cause those who are already ambivalent about seeking help to be wary of taking part in MAT.

Opioid abuse causes physical and chemical changes that require medication, therapy and the appropriate amount of time to heal.

Although well intended, there are those who are misinformed or uneducated about the specific disease of opioid use disorder that plant shame and guilt in the minds of those seeking the best help.

This often produces devastatingly harmful results and many patients internalize this stigma to the downfall of their recovery. There are reportedly even groups that have insisted that attendees who are doing well in MAT stop this therapy because it does not ascribe to their idea of recovery, even though MATs success rate is far greater.

MAT is not the only treatment, nor the best for everyone, just the overwhelming majority. Scientific data shows that people enrolled in MAT are far less likely to overdose, contract infectious diseases, or commit crimes to support their drug habits. It improves family stability, employment potential and even pregnancy outcomes.

Fortunately, the community is becoming more supportive to what works. As we increase in compassion and understanding, better outcomes are expected in this crisis we face together.

Matt Burch is a certified addictions counselor, director of Recovery Concepts LLC, and member of South Carolina Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence.

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