Why tackling the opioid crisis requires treating addiction like any other medical condition

AMNA NAWAZ: On average, 130 Americans die
every day from opioid overdoses. Treating addiction is proving to be a major
challenge in the states hardest hit by the crisis. Tonight’s Brief But Spectacular features clinical
psychologist Dr. Navdeep Kang. He is working to make sure that those struggling
with addiction in his home state of Ohio have access to the help they need. DR. NAVDEEP KANG, Clinical Psychologist: The opioid
epidemic is the greatest public health crisis of our generation. We’re talking about numbers on par with almost
a plane full of people falling out of the sky every day. And if we don’t do anything, we’re looking
at deaths over the next several years that are on par with the Civil War. I originally grew up in Cincinnati, and have
basically lived there most of my life. We have a lot of folks who struggle to get
access to care. And so people would have pretty frustrating
experiences of calling a place for addiction treatment, and getting wait times in the range
of 30 to 60 days, on average. There was a time when it took 53 days to get
into addiction medicine services in Cincinnati. And that’s completely unacceptable. Health care in general has understood how
to treat addiction for a long time. But have we really operationalized it? Have we really carried forward those methods
and applied them at great scale? What we did was take that literature, translate
it into clinical practice, and make sure that there is a full continuum of service. Any time someone is looking for care across
Southwest Ohio, they have the ability to access it, because we put 15 organizations together
who said that, 24/7, we’re going to find a way to get people access when we encounter
them. I think, oftentimes, we have this false narrative
that people choose these behaviors, and so why should we put all this energy into helping
them? But, really, no one chooses to live a life
of addiction. They’re disorders of the brain that ultimately
impact all parts of a person’s functioning and their family and their social network. If we apply the appropriate health care response,
which is well-supported by science and literature, then we can actually make an impact, just
like we do with any other chronic health care condition. The future of addiction treatment is pretty
simple. What we’re talking about in Cincinnati is
mainstreaming addiction treatment into general health care. Just like you go to the doctor for any other
chronic health care condition, you should be able to go to see your doctor for opioid
use disorder, alcohol use disorder, any addiction. And they should know how to treat it. What our vision is, is to have a community
level understanding of addiction as a chronic medical condition warranting a health care
response. And what that will allow us to do is make
sure that prevention efforts are funded, and it will allow us to make sure that folks who
are in recovery have every opportunity that everyone else does to work, to be with their
family, and to pursue their dreams, because, ultimately, that’s what we’re seeking to do,
not just track the number of people who are dying of overdoses, but start tracking the
number of people who are living with substance use disorders as productive, contributing
members of society. My name is Nav Kang, and this is my Brief
But Spectacular take on rethinking addiction treatment. AMNA NAWAZ: You can find more episodes of
our Brief But Spectacular series at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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