Submitted to the AFRO by
Kevin Daniels and Anthony Estreet

All around the country, the month of August has been designated as National Wellness Month with the focus on self-care, managing stress and promoting healthy routines. The irony is that while the whole country has been deemed to be in a national state of crisis with opioid use, only August 31st has been designated as Opioid Misuse Prevention Day.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), everyday more than 115 people in America die after overdosing on opioids misuse. Between 1999 to 2016 more than 630,000 have died from an overdose including on prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.  Among the fifty states, the State of Maryland is among the top 5 states with the highest rate of opioid-related overdose deaths, which is consistently above the national average since 1999.

In 2015, Maryland prescribed over 3.9 million opioid prescriptions, while in 2016 there were nearly 30 deaths per 100,000 persons that were related to opioids. Subsequently, in Baltimore City, the opioid crisis quadrupled since 2011 (167) and in 2016 reached nearly (700) opioid-related deaths.

According to Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Even with interventions in place, we have not even seen where the peak of the epidemic is going to be and there appears to be no end in sight – we don’t know how much worse the problem is going to get.” We are clearly in a state of emergency.

Dr. Anthony Estreet (l) and Dr. Kevin Daniels (r). (Courtesy Photos)

With the above in mind, the CDC estimates that the economic burden of the opioid crisis is $78 billion dollars a year, which includes healthcare costs, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.  The irony is that in the 2018 Omnibus Bill, this Congress and administration only designated about $4.65 billion dollars to fight this crisis, and based upon this kind of comparative analysis, it is clear that wellness is lacking as a national goal.

According to Dr. Anthony Estreet, who is a leading expert as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LCADC), as well as Associate Professor at Morgan State University School of Social Work, this problem has magnified and proliferated just within the last several years from urban to suburban and rural areas.  He stated that the solution must be more holistic in treatment and cost-effectiveness, especially given in the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers.

Embedded in the solution, Dr. Estreet says that since portions of pharmaceuticals and prescribing physicians created this problem, the holistic wellness approach must move beyond just a harm reduction approach to include increasing awareness of cultural competence and sensitivity due to the historic nature of this problem, especially to people of color.  Also, major funding sources must be streamlined to a broader scope and wider range of the problem to include a more massive robust community mobilization, education, mentoring, family resources, job readiness, employment opportunities, housing and vocational support services.

He and his team launched the “Next Step Treatment Center” on Belair and Erdman Avenue to address a more holistic approach, but even he acknowledges that due to the nature of the problem this holistic model is needed on a much larger scale around the country.

Due to the monumental nature of this crisis, we can no longer designate certain months or days to this kind of epidemic. It must be a year-long campaign towards wellness, and it must be a call to action for not only individuals and families, but also an intentional mobilization of faith-based organizations, community organizations, corporate, schools, political and hospitals to resolve this problem because it cost all of us our wellness.

Dr. Anthony Estreet, LCSW-C, LCADC, is the owner of Next Step Treatment Center and an associate professor at Morgan State University in the School of Social Work.

Dr. Kevin Daniels is the chair of the Civic Action Committee (Minister’s Conference of Baltimore and Vicinity) and the pastor of St. Martin Church.

The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.

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