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Taking cue from France in tackling opioid epidemic

The opioid crisis has claimed thousands of lives in the past couple of years and the situation is only worsening day by day. The authorities are running against time in trying to bring the situation under control, and ensure public safety and health. At this juncture, it is worthwhile to take lessons from France, which was in the midst of a similar crisis in the 1980s and the 1990s. Through a slew of measures pivotal to its health care agenda, it successfully combated the opioid crisis. Some of the measures are highlighted below:

  1. Buprenorphine has played a pivotal role in curbing the epidemic in France. The way the French establishment facilitated the widespread disbursal of the anti-addiction medication is laudable. The antidote lessens cravings and withdrawal pangs common in people undergoing recovery from addiction. Unlike the U.S., where it is mandatory to undergo an eight-hour class before the doctors can get a waiver for prescribing buprenorphine, in 1995, France decreed that doctors would no longer require a special license for prescribing buprenorphine. So even primary care physicians could prescribe the drug, unlike America where the authority lies only with specialized addiction doctors. The results were immediate – overdose deaths went down by 79 percent.


  1. France has an obvious advantage over America because of its egalitarian culture. It has universalized health care for all its citizens. So those requiring treatment for addiction are not worried about the costs, as they know it will be taken care of by the state. The situation in America is quite different. Apart from the woeful lack of rehabilitation centers, it is not easy for those belonging to the lower economic strata to get or continue treatment, as they have to bear the costs themselves. Lack of insurance coverage adds to the burden.


  1. In order to address the problems of HIV and hepatitis common among drug users who share needles, France rolled out the needle program for ensuring clean needles. However, in the U.S., there is a lack of common consensus regarding needle programs. For example, a syringe exchange program was opposed in Lawrence County, Indiana, by law commissioners in 2017 on the grounds that it went against certain texts in the Bible.


  1. In France, direct involvement of general physicians in management of opioid addiction did the wonder. In America, medical professionals rarely receive addiction training. This is reiterated by Dr. Richard Frank, professor of health economics at Harvard Business School, who said, “Doctors didn’t learn anything about addiction at medical school. People don’t have much knowledge about opioids.” The classes can be costly and doctors already have packed schedules.


  1. Another major roadblock is related to the reluctance of health insurers to pay for addiction treatment. While many have washed their hands off completely from paying for it or are no longer operational in the U.S., others who are willing to pay find it hard to cover the costs.


  1. Though majority of inmates in American prisons have a substance abuse problem, their needs are rarely met. Apart from few correctional centers, such as the Rhode Island Correctional Center, which has made provisions for medications, not much is being done in other prisons to alleviate the suffering. However, in France, the Ministry of Health adopted a three-pronged approach for treating addiction in prison settings. Apart from prison-based hospital health care units, there are also Regional Medico-Psychological Hospital Services and Centers for Care, Support and Prevention in Addiction (CSAPAs). Furthermore, a reference CSAPA is appointed so that inmates after their release can find the much needed support for drug dependence problems.

Hope for a better life

Though active measures are being taken both at state and federal levels, the U.S. needs to do much more to fight the menace caused by prescription opioids. The doctors and pharmacies need to be active in spotting any doctor shopping behavior and people should be made more aware about safe storage and disposal practices, and the perils of addiction.

If you or your loved one is grappling with substance abuse, contact the 24/7 Recovery Helpline experts to get connected to some state-of-the-art residential drug rehab centers. Chat online or call our 24 hour drug helpline 855-441-4405 for any kind of drug rehab help in the U.S.

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