Our Society’s Changing Views on Substance Abuse

On March 29th, President Obama announced a new plan to combat the rising opioid addiction problem in the United States. The plan makes it easier for doctors to prescribe the limited number of available anti-addiction drugs, expanding upon the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 (DATA). It also tries to control the increasing level of addictive prescription therapeutics being prescribed. Much of the rising trend in addiction in recent years can be attributed to the use of prescription drugs: many individuals not known to be addicts will take the opioid-based painkillers for certain ailments or injuries, and without sufficient prescriber oversight, they can become addicted. As the prescription drug changes the brain, the patient will begin seeking harder and possibly illegal drugs to maintain their pain relief and/or sustain the pleasurable feeling. Chris Christie tells an amazing story to the Huffington Post describing this nightmare situation for one of his closest friends, illustrating that the disease of drug addiction can strike anyone.

President Obama’s new proposal is another step in the changing landscape of the substance abuse field. Since Nixon’s War on Drugs campaign in the 1970’s, our country has been persecuting those with addiction. It was not until recently that scientists discovered that addictive drugs specifically change the brain, leading to drug addiction itself being classified as a neurological disease. This change in pervading thought is ushering in recognition and agreement that addiction should be treated like other mental disorders, beginning a shift away from locking addicts in prison and towards treating people suffering from a disease. Last week, over one thousand world leaders signed a letter to the United Nations asking for reform. Furthermore, recent legislation like DATA makes it easier for physicians to prescribe treatments targeting addiction and the Affordable Care Act mandating all substance abuse treatments be covered by insurance companies. Lastly, new statutes that decriminalize and legalize certain drug holding activities that were previously regarded as criminal offenses are aiding in this shift in landscape of the substance abuse field forward from the days of Nixon’s War on Drugs.

However, despite all these changes targeted at combating the opioid epidemic, the government seems to be neglecting an important group of individuals suffering from substance abuse. There are over 7 million people in the United States that suffer psychostimulant addictions such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Unlike opioid addictions, which have pharmacotherapies such as methadone and suboxone, psychostimulant addictions have no FDA approved treatments available. These addicted individuals have only behavioral therapies and a small handful of off-label treatments to aid in the battle against their problems. EncepHeal Therapeutics is using its business model to accelerate the early development of a potential first-in-class treatment for these psychostimulant addictions and make sure that these people are not left behind in the treatment they need.