WashU Expert: More must be done to address opioid crisis

'Opioids are taking our family, friends hostage and killing them. It is time we respond as such'

Experts at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are recommending that surgeons and anesthesiologists consider cutting back on the number of take-home opioid pills prescribed to patients after surgery. The nonmedical use of opioid drugs costs the U.S. economy more than $70 billion annually. (Photo: Robert J. Boston/School of Medicine)

Opioids, including heroin and prescription drugs, killed 33,000-plus people in 2015, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. President Trump’s proposed budget aims to bring a $500 million increase in funding for prevention and treatment, but that amount isn’t enough to address the crisis, says an expert on substance use disorder treatment at Washington University in St. Louis.

Patterson Silver Wolf

“The GOP’s developing health-care bill would strip away coverage for substance use disorder treatment for 1.3 million Americans during this opioid epidemic,” said David Patterson Silver Wolf, associate professor at the Brown School and director of the Community-Academic Partnership on Addiction.

“According to American Society of Addiction Medicine, in 2015, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States,” he said. “In fact, 12 states had more opioid prescriptions than people in 2012.” Those were: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

According to Health and Human Services, Patterson Silver Wolf said, on an average day in the U.S.:

  • More than 650,000 opioid prescriptions dispensed
  • 3,900 people initiate nonmedical use of prescription opioids
  • 580 people initiate heroin use
  • 78 people die from an opioid-related overdose

“We are in the early period of the opioid epidemic with increased rates to addiction and death,” Patterson Silver Wolf said. “We must demand this crisis to be taken seriously with an effective treatment plan.”

If a foreign invader took 3,900 Americans hostage every day, Patterson Silver Wolf wondered, followed by killing 78 of their hostages per day, how would our government respond?

“There would be an outcry from American citizens heard around the world,” he said. “Opioids are taking our family and friends hostage and killing them without mercy. It is time we respond to this crisis as such.”