"The opioid epidemic is the greatest public health crisis of our generation," says clinical psychologist Navdeep Kang. But, he says, a lot of people struggle to get access to care, facing long wait times, when addiction should be treated just like any other chronic health condition. Kang gives his Brief but Spectacular take on rethinking addiction treatment.
Amna Nawaz: On average, 130 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses.
Treating addiction is proving to be a major challenge in the states hardest hit by the crisis.
Tonight's Brief But Spectacular features clinical psychologist Dr. Navdeep Kang. He is working to make sure that those struggling with addiction in his home state of Ohio have access to the help they need.
Navdeep Kang: The opioid epidemic is the greatest public health crisis of our generation.
We're talking about numbers on par with almost a plane full of people falling out of the sky every day. And if we don't do anything, we're looking at deaths over the next several years that are on par with the Civil War.
I originally grew up in Cincinnati, and have basically lived there most of my life.
We have a lot of folks who struggle to get access to care. And so people would have pretty frustrating experiences of calling a place for addiction treatment, and getting wait times in the range of 30 to 60 days, on average. There was a time when it took 53 days to get into addiction medicine services in Cincinnati.
And that's completely unacceptable. Health care in general has understood how to treat addiction for a long time. But have we really operationalized it? Have we really carried forward those methods and applied them at great scale?
What we did was take that literature, translate it into clinical practice, and make sure that there is a full continuum of service. Any time someone is looking for care across Southwest Ohio, they have the ability to access it, because we put 15 organizations together who said that, 24/7, we're going to find a way to get people access when we encounter them.
I think, oftentimes, we have this false narrative that people choose these behaviors, and so why should we put all this energy into helping them? But, really, no one chooses to live a life of addiction. They're disorders of the brain that ultimately impact all parts of a person's functioning and their family and their social network.
If we apply the appropriate health care response, which is well-supported by science and literature, then we can actually make an impact, just like we do with any other chronic health care condition.
The future of addiction treatment is pretty simple. What we're talking about in Cincinnati is mainstreaming addiction treatment into general health care. Just like you go to the doctor for any other chronic health care condition, you should be able to go to see your doctor for opioid use disorder, alcohol use disorder, any addiction. And they should know how to treat it.
What our vision is, is to have a community level understanding of addiction as a chronic medical condition warranting a health care response.
And what that will allow us to do is make sure that prevention efforts are funded, and it will allow us to make sure that folks who are in recovery have every opportunity that everyone else does to work, to be with their family, and to pursue their dreams, because, ultimately, that's what we're seeking to do, not just track the number of people who are dying of overdoses, but start tracking the number of people who are living with substance use disorders as productive, contributing members of society.
My name is Nav Kang, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on rethinking addiction treatment.
Amna Nawaz: You can find more episodes of our Brief But Spectacular series at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.