As states begin to receive money from the multitude of lawsuits and settlements the opioid makers and distributors have agreed to pay, the number of overdose deaths in the country continue to increase, reaching an all-time high in 2021. Researcher Linda Richter worries that not enough of the settlement funds, upward of $22 billion, are going toward early-stage prevention measures.
Some states are allocating these funds to law enforcement and access to overdose reversal medications. While important, these approaches address the end-stage consequences of addiction. What’s needed, she said, are efforts to prevent family instability, childhood trauma and stress, and youth exposure to addictive substances, which can significantly reduce substance use and prevent escalation to addiction and other health and social problems.
“Parents could be doing everything right,” Richter said. “But then if a child leaves the home and goes to a school where the messages are completely different and where they’re seeing kids getting suspended, punished, or expelled for potentially using a substance, or they walk outside into their neighborhood, which is just completely surrounded by retail outlets selling and advertising nicotine products and alcohol products and cannabis products. … Those are going to have a profound influence on the child’s trajectory, whether or not the parent is trying to do their best.”
This conversation emerged from Richter’s First Opinion essay, “First Opinion essay “Allocate opioid settlement dollars to real addiction-ending solutions.” Richter is the vice president of prevention research and analysis at the Partnership to End Addiction in New York. She wrote the essay with Diana Fishbein, a senior scientist in the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and president of the National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives.
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