With the headlines focused on the historic public health crisis of COVID-19, many may have forgotten another national health tragedy: the growing epidemic of substance use disorders. Certainly, many have not forgotten it, namely the families and relatives of the tens of thousands of people who have died in the past year alone. National Recovery Month is an opportunity to bring this issue back to the top of the agenda, raise awareness and inspire action.
The latest data is record breaking and shocking. In 2020, there were nearly 93,000 fatal drug overdoses,1 a 30 percent increase over the previous year. Equally worrying is the data on alcohol consumption – each year, more than 95,000 Americans die from binge drinking,2 making it one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States
COVID-19 has further deteriorated the situation, exposing gaps in our addiction and mental health treatment systems that have made finding and obtaining treatment a difficult and often overwhelming task for people living with with an addiction.
At Alkermes, we manufacture drugs for the treatment of serious mental illness and addiction and focus on understanding the real needs of patients and their families. These needs are important at the best of times and are particularly acute in the event of a pandemic. We have seen firsthand the effect COVID-19 has had on people living with these diseases. Stress, uncertainty, isolation and economic hardship are often associated with treatment system failures that disproportionately affect uninsured and underinsured people, women, people of color and others in the world. underfunded or underrepresented communities.
It’s easy to see these staggering statistics and feel overwhelmed, or toss them into the flood of bad news that floods us every day. However, behind the statistics are real people – our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers – and they deserve better. Recognizing and rejecting the stigma and recognizing the humanity of people living with substance use disorders opens the door to improvements that could reverse these numbers in a lasting way.
National Recovery Month is a time of awareness – not only of the large-scale epidemic, but of the individual bravery of those in recovery who strive to maintain a positive attitude every day, and for whom every day is a day. small victory. The awareness of the essential role that caregivers play in the recovery journey, the dedication of a parent, spouse or sibling whose love and support keeps a light on during dark times. Awareness of the important role that advocacy groups play in advocating for policies that help normalize and encourage pathways to recovery. And the awareness of the quality of care by healthcare professionals who help their patients come out of their lowest point and support them on their journey to recovery.
National Recovery Month is also a time of action. We recognized early on that making new drugs was not enough. We decided that part of our mission was to interact with the wider treatment ecosystem and become an advocate for change to ensure patients have access to quality care. We have become strong supporters of public policy initiatives that increase access to and education about drug treatments for opioid and alcohol dependence.
We also make direct investments to help patients and patient-centric organizations. This year we launched an alcohol addiction awareness campaign called âMy Relationship with Alcoholâ;3 and, as in the past, we provided support through our Alkermes Inspiration GrantsÂ® program4 to non-profit organizations that strive to meet the needs of those affected by serious illness in our priority treatment areas, including alcohol and opioid addiction.
But no single organization can tackle these complex diseases on its own. Lives depend on our ability to work together – federal, state and local governments, advocacy groups, biopharmaceutical companies, and criminal justice and healthcare institutions – to prioritize the treatment and recovery of people living with addiction. This includes expanding access to evidence-based treatments, including consideration of the appropriate medication for each patient and consideration of psychological, environmental and behavioral factors that affect outcomes; fight against racial inequalities that affect access to medicines and healthcare; promote policies that create safe and recovery-ready workplaces; encourage funding for recovery support services in our communities and train first responders to recognize and provide appropriate support to people in crisis.
Ultimately, the health care system and society must recognize addiction for what it is, a serious and pervasive medical disorder. And, if we hope to make progress against this potentially fatal disease, we must unite in serving patients at all stages of their recovery and dare to make progress.
We invite you to join us in our efforts to have a positive impact on the lives of people living with addiction and their families.
Richard Pops is Chairman and CEO of Alkermes.