According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA, a component of the National Institutes of Health within the US Department of Health and Human Services), healthcare providers in Nevada wrote nearly 2.2 Million opioid prescriptions in 2017 or 73 opioids for every 100 persons in the state, 24% above the national average of just under 59 per person. There were 13.3 opioid related deaths per 100,000 persons with the highest number by far being related to opioids prescribed by medical providers. 3 babies per 1,000 were born addicted, more than twice the rate from just six years earlier. The numbers are staggering and the increase in both opioid addiction and opioid related deaths has been catastrophic. Tragically, the numbers only reflect the tip of the iceberg relative to the vast devastation visited upon opioid addicted people, and the overall cost to society in healthcare expense and lost productivity as well as quality of life.
As observed in recent court proceedings, the Pharmaceutical Industry, often referred to as “Big Pharma”, has infiltrated our healthcare system over the last two decades and pushed up the utilization of opiates at every level. So much so that hospitals and other healthcare providers ended up being convinced to add a fifth vital sign, asking every patient if they were experiencing any pain and how bad it was. That new “vital sign” scoring system turned out to be 100% reliant upon what the patient said and required no other independently quantifiable indicator. The implications are obvious, and the widespread crisis in addiction to prescription opioids like Oxycontin and Oxycodone that followed should have been no surprise to anyone.
With the crisis being identified, the Pharmaceutical Industry turned toward supplying solutions for the epidemic – amongst them a drug named Buprenorphine. In combination with behavioral therapy, prescription of this drug is known as Medication Assisted Treatment or MAT and has been shown to be successful in helping addicted people return to a certain level of normalcy. Unfortunately, Buprenorphine (sold as Suboxone and Subutex) is opiate based and is an addictive drug in and of itself. In fact, detox from Buprenorphine causes the same or worse withdrawal symptoms as does detox from Oxycontin, Oxycodone or even heroin.
We are in the midst of an opioid addiction epidemic and there is no comprehensive plan to get us out of it. After the tragedy that occurred on October 1st, 2017, we all saw the way the Las Vegas community will join together to address a crisis. In that same spirit, we have formed Vegas Stronger to squarely address the opioid epidemic.
The Mission of Vegas Stronger is to focus the Spirit of Las Vegas on reversing devastation caused to our community by the Opioid Epidemic. We facilitate that restoration to wholeness for individuals, families and society at large by creating awareness and providing access to both state of the art and historically reliable remedies.
Vegas Stronger embodies the spirit of Las Vegas, personified in a unified movement, elevating the lives of those who suffer most in our great city. We recognize the number one problem in our community as being the devastation resulting from the opioid epidemic. Vegas Stronger provides an efficient and effective solution that restores the lives of those most at risk, and, not coincidentally those men and women who are also generally the most underserved in our community. Vegas Stronger is a nonprofit organization formed in large part to inspire citizens of our great city to embrace social causes and unify to address the devastation caused by the plague of opioid addiction.
There exists a consensus across the country, from lawmakers and government agencies to healthcare providers and community service organizations, in support of the belief that Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the best solution for the opioid addiction crisis. But it is important to recognize that there are three medications approved by the FDA for use in the treatment of opioid dependence. These medications are Buprenorphine, Methadone, and Naltrexone. As mentioned above, all three of these treatments have been demonstrated to be safe and effective in combination with counseling and other psychosocial support. However, Buprenorphine and Methadone are opiate-based solutions, replacing one addictive drug with another and subject to diversion on the black market; Naltrexone stands alone as containing no mood- or mind-altering substances. People in Medication Assisted Treatment utilizing Naltrexone are, in fact, free from the effects of having any opioids in their system.
Naltrexone is an antagonist; it simply blocks opiate receptors in the human brain. As a result, cravings are reduced and no opioid “high” can be achieved. Naltrexone comes in three forms: a daily oral dose, a monthly injectable and as an implant that remains effective for six months. Currently, the injectable product sells for roughly $1,200 per dose and the implant has a cost of $5,000. Insurance reimbursement and authorization are cumbersome and often the medication is not even covered. These factors often result in an insurmountable financial obstacle, especially for the most vulnerable populations in our community. However, although insurance or government assistance may not provide viable solutions to obtaining lifesaving Naltrexone, Vegas Stronger will supply an affordable alternative for those in need.
At Vegas Stronger our guiding principle is that the optimal pathway for opioid addicted people to be restored to productive membership in society is the wholistic combination of Non-Opioid-Based Medication Management (Naltrexone), Psychosocial Therapy, Housing, and Vocational/Occupational Training. We at Vegas Stronger will aim to remove funding constraints and supply every addicted or newly recovering person with oral, injectable or an implant for free. The only caveat will be that the individual has no medical contraindications and each of them must remain active in an approved behavioral counseling course of treatment.
The Vegas Stronger program will be 30 to 90 days of intensive outpatient treatment followed by up to a full year of occupational therapy during the day and a combination of counseling and 12-Step meetings during the evenings. We will ensure housing and employment transition and training to all program participants and will link those clients to crucial social service agencies. Vitamin, nutrition, and fitness support will be offered in tandem with the housing, counseling, and occupational services to optimize outcomes.
Utilizing our network of community partners, Vegas Stronger will unite medication, therapeutic treatment, case management, housing and work training, along with a wide variety of social services to create an effective web we are certain will greatly diminish detrimental impacts from the opioid epidemic. Utilizing data aggregation and analysis we will track and monitor each client through a series of milestones and related metrics. This data compilation and tracking will include urinalysis, clinical markers and progress through abstinence and employability. By tracking program outcomes, we will have created an efficacious program that can be scaled for expansion and implementation at a state and federal level.