Experts Discuss Ending the Opioid Crisis

Dr. Patrice Harris, chair of the American Medical Association’s Opioid Task Force, said she believes drug addiction should be treated like a disease.

By Daksh Chauhan, Deputy News Editor

A panel of law enforcement and medical professionals discussed the potential of big data and medicine-assisted therapies to alleviate the opioid crisis at the Quadrangle Club on Tuesday.

The event was hosted by the Institute of Politics and moderated by John Temple, author of American Pain. The panelists were Dr. Patrice Harris, chair of the American Medical Association’s Opioid Task Force; Rahul Gupta, Commissioner for the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health; Timothy Sini, District Attorney for Suffolk County in New York; and Kelly Chenoweth, a former addict currently in recovery.

The discussion focused particularly on West Virginia, which the panelists said is experiencing perhaps the worst opioid crisis in the nation.

“West Virginia is like the ground zero for the opioid epidemic,” Gupta said. “It’s tough to see what is happening and how it is affecting families.”

However, as Gupta said later, West Virginia’s Bureau of Public Health has made strides toward improvement and demonstrated approaches that can be applied in other states. Gupta’s team carried out a “social autopsy,” a project that used data from opioid-related deaths in 2016 to implement novel approaches, like closely monitoring target populations.

According to Gupta, the findings revealed that nine out of 10 drug addicts had a history of prescription drug abuse and that 56 percent of those incarcerated had a “high chance” of overdose. “With this study, we gained information that has allowed us to target the right groups, like the incarcerated population,” said Gupta.

Another topic the panel discussed was the social stigma surrounding the use of medication to prevent relapses. “I get infuriated whenever I hear people voicing opinions against medicine-based therapies as they clearly do not understand their details,” Chenoweth said.

Chenoweth, who began seeking treatment for her drug addiction, said that she would not have been able to stop her addiction without her medicines like Suboxone, and lamented the stigma around them.

Harris agreed, noting that “in [even the] best states,” only four out of 10 people can access medical assisted therapies. This is the case in part because of the misconceptions of many doctors and communities about such treatments. Harris said that she believes drug addiction should be treated like a disease, and that the value of medication should be appreciated in treating addiction.

“Using medicine-assisted therapies to treat addiction has been very effective in treating patients, and we must ensure that people understand their value in alleviating the crisis,” she said.