A new survey finds that nearly three-quarters of adults in Buffalo believe opioids addiction is one of today's highest social priorities, but there are not enough community resources to tackle the problem. That is why a local health provider, that began in response to the AIDS crisis of a generation ago, has been expanding into opioids addiction and other chronic diseases that are underserved and stigmatized.
Three-hundred adults took the voluntary 20-minute online survey in each of 10 cities across the country, including Buffalo. Indivior, an international manufacturer of opioid addiction treatment drugs, chose cities where opioid overdose deaths and narcan use were high relative to the total population.
"It's proximity to Canada and I think it has more to do with lanes of trafficking, so there's a higher availability of the product," said Dr. Jarod Masci, a member of the Erie County Opiates Task Force. "So when the supply is high, the price goes down. The price goes down, more people who are susceptible to substance use are going to have a worse problem. They're going to have more access to it."
When asked to rank opioids addiction against other pressing social priorities, those surveyed in Buffalo found it to be a bigger issue than terrorism, economic stability, homelessness, unemployment, healthcare reform, climate change and immigration. They also flagged barriers to treatment, including a lack of awareness of treatment options, stigma and too few physicians who are qualified to provide treatment from their office.
Masci said the survey results are not surprising.
"The opioids problem is in many ways equivalent to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the '80s and '90s. This is what's harming our community the most. It affects people from all walks of life, all races, all genders," said Masci.
"And because Evergreen does have all these other services available, for the more urban community, the people of lower socio-economic status, especially who need help with housing and other things, that can make a big difference in the effective treatment of substance abuse," he said.
A psychiatrist, Masci began as Evergreen Health Services' new Medical Director of Psychiatry and Substance Abuse Programs on Halloween. He is in the process of hiring staff to create a prescriber-user-friendly program where oral pain medications and addiction treatments are available in a centralized and non-stigmatized environment.
"If we can get more physicians to come in, they could potentially work part-time," Masci said. "We could train them. They wouldn't have to change their practice, but they could say 'All right, every Wednesday afternoon I'm going to go work at Evergreen, you know, as more of a helping out the community, community outreach, sort of community health kind of thing. And it involves really pretty minimal effort. The main investment is time."
Masci said any physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner can quickly become certified to prescribe opioid pain killers.
"Without that as the gateway drug, very few people basically go from using alcohol or using marijuana to injectable heroin. That's not what typically happens," Masci said. "We're really trying to limit the amount of prescription opioids that are on the market. That really contains the epidemic."
Evergreen's new program rolls out in full in mid-December.