In 2014, more people died of a drug overdose than ever before in our country’s history. It’s clear that we are experiencing a public health crisis on a national scale, but with differing views on how to create a healthier future for ourselves and our communities. Educating the public about opioid abuse and heightened awareness are key, and at the same time, the magnitude of this epidemic demands action on a larger scale. Here are four ways the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed to help us get a handle on the opioid abuse epidemic.

  1. Support new prescription guidelines. In 2016 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines suggesting limits on the volume of opioid prescriptions given out by doctors. Now the HHS is asking for $80 million to support implementation around the country of these new guidelines. It’s not enough to pass laws or regulations governing opioid prescription; we must educate all those with prescribing privileges about these regulations and help them to understand how limiting opioid prescriptions is in their patients’ best interest.
  1. Connect substance abuse to other critical health issues. Addiction doesn’t occur in a vacuum. For example, women who suffer depression during pregnancy or following childbirth are at risk for substance abuse. Providing resources and mental health support to women before they fall prey to substance abuse makes good sense for women, children and their families. Preventative mental health care really does work. This means funding community-based mental health programs.
  1. Commit to what works. As important as implementing new regulations to guide how prescriptions are given, it is imperative to know what substance abuse treatment methods actually work at both reducing deaths and improving efforts at recovery. A significant portion of the HHS’s budget request is committed to evaluating the efficacy and success of programs meant to intervene before an overdose occurs. There are many different types of substance abuse treatment and prevention programs; the government has a responsibility to help weed out what works and what doesn’t.
  1. Invest in Naloxone. Implementing new policies and educating patients and families can be excellent long-term solutions to opioid abuse, but what can we do immediately to address the problem? Special provisions of the HHS’s budget prioritize the purchase and distribution of Naloxone, a life-saving medication often capable of reversing an opioid overdose long enough to get an individual to emergency care. Setting aside $22 million for this urgently needed medication will undoubtedly save lives.

Whether you’re looking for a personal solution to opioid abuse or to improve the health and welfare of our nation, there are groups working to fight and reverse the opioid overdose epidemic in the United States. If you or someone you love is addicted to opioid-based medications, there is help and hope for you out there, be it from national organizations, your community health providers, or your closest friends and family members. Seek out support today and get involved in the efforts to end opioid deaths.