Federal lawmakers are filling their political ledgers with proposals to address the opioid crisis. In fact, federal omnibus appropriations for 2018 included about $4 billion worth of new investment in everything from prevention to treatment to the development of devices to test overseas packages for fentanyl.
The focus on opioids is well directed. It goes without saying that the grim statistics on overdose deaths should prompt this level of acceleration toward solutions. However—always being the advocate for the underdog—I hope that in our opioid anxiety, we don’t cheat the programs that support individuals with alcohol use disorders.
We can’t assume that new policies addressing opioid addiction will consequently benefit those with alcohol issues too. Any clinician will tell you that an individual misusing alcohol has distinctly different care needs than someone who has been using heroin. Not only are the programs discrete, but in terms of raw numbers, the need for treatment is actually greater when it comes to alcohol.
Twice the number of Americans report alcohol issues as those reporting drug issues. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health finds that an estimated 15.1 million people had an alcohol use disorder in 2016, compared with 7.4 million people who had an illicit drug use disorder—a figure that includes misuse of prescription opioids.
Alcohol trends not abating
We can’t become complacent, assuming that the alcohol awareness campaigns of the past have stuck and now can be left unattended. We also can't claim that alcohol trends aren't as concerning, comparated with current opioid trends. Data shows that the prevalence of alcohol-related issues hasn’t been improving.
Alcohol-induced deaths increased 37% between 2000 and 2015, with 33,200 deaths in 2015 alone, according to the Trust for America’s Health. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recently found the rate of emergency room visits related to chronic alcohol consumption increased 58% between 2006 and 2014. And as a nation, we’re consuming 17.5 billion binge drinks a year, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.
Alcohol use is still a serious issue, and one that shouldn’t be shortchanged as attention is directed toward the opioid crisis.
Addiction professionals annually convene at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders to share what’s working: Clinicians hear from thought leaders on delivering treatment, while executives of behavioral healthcare organizations learn how to run more effective, more efficient, and ethically minded businesses.