To Stem Opioid Crisis, Pay Attention to People, Not Substances

July 10, 2017 | Andy Steiner, MinnPost

While well-intentioned, the intense national focus on the dangers of opioid-based pain medication misses the mark, said Joseph Lee, M.D., Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation’s medical director of the youth continuum. The opioid-addiction crisis is about more than opioids, Lee maintains: It’s about the larger crisis of addiction and how we identify and treat people who are at risk for developing dependence on a range of substances.

Lee’s perspective is backed up by the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy’s June 2017 Emerging Drug Trends Report, which is produced in collaboration with the University of Maryland School of Public Health. The report surveys a number of recent studies, highlighting findings that conclude that people with addictions to opioid-based drugs tend to also be addicted to other substances at the same time.

This finding underscores the reality that opioids are only part of the larger problem of addiction, Lee said. Too much focus on one substance distracts from the core issue.

“When we think about the opioid crisis,” Lee said, “let’s avoid focusing too much on specific drugs and make sure we prepare ourselves for the future by zeroing in on the real problem — the heightened vulnerability that some people have to substance misuse and addiction.”

Late last week, I spoke with Lee about the report, and about his firm belief that the opioid crisis can only be stemmed when Americans stop vilifying specific drugs and instead focus on building greater understanding of individual people and their addiction-risk profiles.

Read the interview here.