The opioid crisis is being addressed daily in a multitude of ways, but if the nation is to overcome the epidemic, it’s going to take a big-picture, systemic approach, says Harry Nelson, founder of the healthcare law firm Nelson Hardiman.
Nelson engaged in a series of discussions with federal policymakers ranging from the FDA and DEA to SAMHSA, ONDCP and NIDA. Along the way, Nelson says he realized that the opioid crisis in the U.S. is “so big and structural” that solutions are going to have to come from corners beyond the policy world. With that impetus, he recently released The United States of Opioids: A Prescription for Liberating a Nation in Pain (ForbesBooks).
“The conversation in the healthcare community needs to be focused more on where are the multiple points of system failure,” Nelson says. “In the broader community, the challenge is to wake up parents, educators and the workplace to the profound levels in which stress overload—chronic stress is a form of trauma—is being inflicted on the population in large numbers. There needs to be more done here at all of these points.”
From his vantage point, Nelson says the U.S. healthcare system is “very good at late-stage intervention,” noting the expanded access to Naloxone, efforts to train police to be not just a law enforcement mechanism, but a healthcare mechanism, and the development of new forms of medication to be used in addiction treatment.
“But we are uniquely bad as a society at preventive awareness, wellness, education and resources,” he says. “That’s not just a problem in West Virginia and Kentucky. It’s a problem in West L.A. and New York and every geographic, ethnic, racial, and income [group] in America.”
In his book, Nelson makes a case for why he believes coverage of drug manufacturers’ role in the crisis misses the larger, structural issues facing the healthcare system, and he delves into the ways in which grassroots actions in community can spark change.
“For me, the work is creating a new awareness of our vulnerability to chronic stress as a form of trauma and addressing the profound level of isolation that is felt across this country,” he says.