An alarming headline has been circulating as we settle into the new year; there is now a higher likelihood of dying from an opioid overdose than from dying in a car accident. The National Safety Council estimates that the average American has a 1 in 96 chance or dying from an opioid overdose compared to a 1 in 103 chance of dying in a car accident. The country seems to be more aware that opioids like oxycontin and fentanyl are real dangers but the measures lawmakers have introduced to address the problem seem to be limited.
In many states the first solution to the opioid problem is to simply put offenders in jail. Imprisoning drug addicts rarely seems to ever have the intended effect, which is why many new laws are designed to stop addicts from getting the drugs in the first place by increasing criminal liability for people that sell opioids or doctors who overprescribe them.
Both options fail to treat the root of the problem, which is addiction to the drugs. According to The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, only 10.6% of youth and adults who need treatment for substance abuse actually get the help that they need.
There are of course many reasons why drug abusers do not seek treatment for addiction. The first problem is that many drug addicts do not realize that they are addicts in the first place. The ones that are aware of their problem often try to resolve it with methods that are ineffective. Often times the only option is for an addict to go into a clinical rehabilitation program but even rehab has barriers that make it hard for addicts to follow through with programs.
The main issue with rehabilitation programs is you often times have to stop your life completely and spend months in a facility away from your family. In many jurisdictions, people that are arrested for non-violent drug offenses can avoid jail and be sentenced to mandatory drug rehabilitation. Some states are trying to make rehabilitation more palatable by making the transition easier.
Last year Pennsylvania passed a law that allows family members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, or adult siblings to assume temporary guardianship of the children of a person who is going into a rehabilitation facility for drug or alcohol abuse.
Lee Ciccarelli who is a guardianship attorney in West Chester, Pennsylvania, says that the law even allows for court costs and filing fees to be waived if those costs constitute a financial burden. This makes the process much more bearable for low income families.
Ciccarelli says that the initial temporary guardianship period is 90 days and can be extended to a year which would give a person entering rehab peace of mind knowing their children will be taken care of while they are being treated. Hopefully, measures like Pennsylvania’s will become adopted in more states and we can get at least a few more people potentially life saving treatment.