Northwell Health, New York State’s largest health system, published a first-hand, in-depth look at the effects of the opioid epidemic, which continues to rage in the communities served by Northwell in the metropolitan area. Entitled “The Rage of Understanding: An Opioid Opera of Tragedy and Hope,” the piece was published in The Well, Northwell’s health and wellness website.
It features personal accounts of addiction, including the stories of Jon Allen, a recovering heroin user from Long Island, family members of other opioid victims who passed away from the disease, and enlightening statistics and stories from addiction specialists battling the epidemic on the front lines. The article is accompanied by a short video that follows Allen as he discusses the struggles of addiction and how he overcame it.
“It is important to have open dialogue about opioids and substance use so we as a health system can better address this epidemic,” said Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, Northwell’s director of Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) program. “At Northwell Health, we launched multiple initiatives among providers, nurses and staff to heighten awareness and to support judicious prescribing of opioids, while also educating students at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell on techniques to address substance use with patients, fostering an environment of trust and partnership to encourage transparent discussions about their substance use and potential consequences. We are here to support and navigate pathways to treatment and care.”
“This public health crisis requires continued insightful examination of drivers and solutions. Families must be informed about what needs to be done to slow the spread of opioids,” said Dr. Jay Enden, chair of Northwell’s Opioid Management Steering Committee. “If one family is educated and one life is saved through open and honest accounts of the epidemic, we have done a public service.”
The story, months in the making, includes not only first-hand accounts, but also statistics and data on both the local and national levels to formulate a comprehensive picture. The data includes a breakdown of use by types of opioids, as well as numbers on the skyrocketing death toll.
“We feel it is our obligation to share first-hand accounts of victims and providers grappling with the opioid epidemic,” said Gina Czark, Northwell Health’s vice president of content. “This is a brutally honest and introspective look at the crisis. In the piece, we sought to expose every angle possible, from patients to experts, to help the public better understand how we got here, how bad the problem has become, and what options exist to combat this often fatal addiction.”
Some statistics included in the story include:
- The number of opioid deaths in 2017 is expected to reach 72,000 compared to 62,000 in 2016.
- One-third of Americans over age 12 (91.8 million) used prescription opioids in 2016. Of those, about 11.5 million didn’t use them the way they were intended. Today, it’s estimated that more than three million people abuse painkillers outright.
- The number of overdose deaths from traditional prescription opiates is dropping, replaced by an estimated 30,000 deaths related to the synthetic drug fentanyl. In 2017, it is estimated that 9,000 more people died from synthetics than in 2016.
“Stigma is an enormous barrier to treatment, and Northwell’s efforts to train medical professionals and students about addiction are critical in terms of changing attitudes toward patients with the disease,” said Fred Muench, president of the New York-based nonprofit Center on Addiction. “Northwell’s innovative practices are an important step toward changing the way our country addresses addiction. They will ultimately save lives and help keep families together.”