“The continuing increase in drug overdoses in the nation is fueling the development of a more dangerous and complicated epidemic,” a report issued by the American Medical Association.
According to the Office of the Surgeon General1 in 7 people are expected to develop substance use disorders at some point in their life. In addition, of the 21 million Americans estimated to have suffered from an addiction disorder in 2017, only 4 million (19%) received treatment.
In 2017 HHS declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency and announced a 5-point strategy to combat the crisis, including: improved access to support services for prevention, treatment and recovery; target the availability and distribution of drugs that reverse overdose; strengthening reporting and collection of public health data; supporting groundbreaking research on addiction and pain; and promoting the practice of pain management.
About 14,500 specialized drug treatment facilities provide counseling, behavioral therapy, medication, case management, and other types of services to individuals with substance use disorders in the United States. But for many families, determining the best intervention or treatment for their loved ones can be a stressful and confusing endeavor. Navigating different types of therapeutic intervention, payment constraints, and costs can add an unnecessary burden to an already difficult time.
To help improve access to and use of recovery support systems, Unbreakable, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing the addiction crisis, today launched an Addiction Treatment, Assessment and Standards (ATLAS) platform.
The tools, developed with RTI International, aims to connect people in need with quality addiction treatment through the use of evidence-based best practices by evaluating treatment facilities and enabling patients to provide feedback on their experiences through a free online interface. In this way, patients can search and compare facilities based on location, services offered and insurance provider.
As of today, families in 6 states seeking treatment for themselves or a loved one can use this free online platform to create a short anonymous assessment to receive a recommendation on the most appropriate level of care and then treatment facilities that provide treatments based on the latest science, ”said Gary Mendell, Founder and CEO of Shatterproof, during a live-stream demo of the platform.
Mendell, who lost his son to addiction in 2011, was inspired to found the organization after realizing that there was an abundance of published research on addiction treatment best practices that were rarely implemented in real rehabilitation centers. A 2012 report conducted by the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University echoed these concerns when it concluded, “the vast majority of people who require addiction treatment do not receive anything approaching evidence-based care”, The Washington Post reported
“ATLAS is the first and only resource in our country to provide the level of transparency and reliable information about the quality of care I needed as a parent and my son as a patient,” said Mendell.
ATLAS is currently available in Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and West Virginia. The website, which is accessible on computers and mobile devices, lists all the states’ addiction treatment facilities for each substance use disorder and allows individuals to provide anonymous reviews of the treatment they receive. The tool was funded in part by Arnold Ventures, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a coalition of health care companies including Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, and others.
Unbreakable plans to make secure access to ATLAS data available to state policymakers, providers, and insurance payers by the fall of 2020, in addition to increasing implementation in states across the country. Payers can thus assess provider performance, while policymakers can use the data to address policy changes and distribute the necessary resources among support facilities.
“In many cases, the lack of reliable, trustworthy information also keeps the stigma and misconceptions around [substance use disorder], ”Said Lipi Roy, MD, internal medicine physician, during the live stream. “We know that there are committed, evidence-based health care providers who want to help people with addiction recover and live healthier lives, and who want to improve the quality of addiction treatment.”
The platform currently includes data contributions from more than 1,200 addiction treatment facilities, 8,600 patients and several commercial insurers. All the facilities listed on the platform have completed a survey about what services they offer and what insurance they accept. Information received from facilities is vetted through a multi-process validation and updated every year, while data collected from patient experience studies is updated and reviewed every 24 hours.
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams took part in the live stream demo to endorse ATLAS and its mission. In 2018, the Office of the Surgeon General released its first public health advice in 13 years, and urges Americans to carry naloxone, a life-saving drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
“Addiction can happen to any of us and one of our families,” said Adams, highlighting his own experience helping a family member with an addiction disorder and highlighting the destructive power that stigma has on people with the disease.
“I would like to note, as an African American man, that in my experience stigma is especially evident in communities of color and in rural communities … It is no coincidence that these are the same communities that are in many cases hardest hit by substance abuse problems. Adams said. It is also no coincidence that those same communities have also been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, he continued.
“We know that more than 30 states have reported an increase in opioid-related deaths coinciding with the COVID-19 epidemic,” said Adams, urging governors, legislators and local policymakers to support safe access to high-quality addiction treatment programs.
Between January and April 2020 in the United States, there was an approximately 11.4% year-over-year increase in the number of overdose deaths in the United States, according to PoliticsIn Kentucky alone, the number of overdose deaths increased by an estimated 25% between January and March.
However, STAT News reports that many cash-strapped states have cut budgets for opioid crisis programs in the wake of the pandemic. Colorado, Georgia, New Jersey, Florida and Utah have already cut millions of dollars for future substance use disorder programs. The cutbacks are due to treatment plants struggling to meet capacity reductions and social distance requirements.
While tackling COVID-19 remains a top priority for many Americans, “we must not forget about the other health problems that will not only exacerbate the virus but will be exacerbated by the virus and will be present long after this pandemic has ended,” Adams said. .
As new COVID-19 cases continue to increase across the country, Adams pleaded with individuals to wear face masks, practice regular hand hygiene, and maintain social distance measures to avoid extending the pandemic.[Masks] really be an instrument of freedom, because if enough people wear them, and practice … take social distance and practice good hygiene, we can keep more places open, including addiction, addiction and treatment recovery programs, ”said Adams.
“We face an unprecedented challenge in fighting a global pandemic, while continuing to expand access to life-changing and life-saving treatments for people fighting substance use disorders,” he concluded.
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