West Virginia, facing an opioid crisis similar to Indiana’s, also looks to the resources of its state university for insight and assistance. Part of the work for faculty there is documenting what is actually at stake for the people of the state. One professor documenting the stakes is economist John Deskins:
“The factors that come into play are really divided into two categories,” Deskins explained. “In the first category, there are healthcare costs, substance abuse treatment costs and criminal justice costs, such as police protection, legal and correctional facilities costs. West Virginia is tying up so many of its resources in these areas. It is a steep investment of time, skills, knowledge and resources that could be spent on tackling other problems.”
The second category is one of productivity loss and reflects the people who are addicted to opioids, including addicts who are in the workforce but are not nearly as productive as they could be and people who have died due to opioid overdose.
“This second category is comprised of people who could be helping the economy be more productive,” said Deskins, “and this sadly includes people who have died as a result of their opioid abuse.” (“WVU chief economist: Opioid crisis has cost West Virginia nearly $1 billion“)
One foundational insight is that the crisis will not be solved by just one kind of expert, one kind of research, or one kind of initiative:
WVU has taken a multi-disciplinary approach to studying this addition, including researching the medical, cultural, economic, psychological and sociological effects of such abuse.
The opioid crisis can be traced back to the 1980s when a catastrophic medical mistake opened the door to liberal prescribing of narcotics. The perfect storm of powerful molecules, complex brain physiology, and an over-aggressive pharmaceutical industry, which capitalized on that original error, lead to the current epidemic.
Levounis will explore the neurobiological underpinnings of the addictive process and its interplay with the psychosocial aspects of the opioid disaster. The lecture will conclude with some good news: treatment works and people recover. We now have robust and safe medications, as well as effective counseling and psychotherapy techniques—and even more are under development—that successfully heal people who suffer from prescription opioid and heroin addiction.
Ongoing question: What kinds of communication, publishing, social media, public events, and educational programs will get the word out to the many constituencies that need it? That need different parts of our unfolding understanding of the crisis, that is?