What Can Psychologists Do to Help With the Opioid Crisis?

Every day, 130 people in the United States die from opioid overdoses, and an estimated two million people in the country suffer from opioid addiction, which is wreaking havoc on families and communities. In light of these alarming figures, APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, discusses how psychologists may help end the opioid crisis by providing non-pharmaceutical pain therapy and other measures.

12/21/20222 min read

The opioid crisis is the subject of a special story in the June 2019 issue of the Monitor on Psychology, the APA's member magazine that covers psychology's science and practice, as well as how psychology affects society as a whole. The special report is available at APA.org/Monitor. Dr. Arthur C. Evans Jr., the CEO of the American Psychological Association, is our guest for this episode.

Dr. Evans has previously worked in the fields of substance use disorders and addiction, and has taken a number of approaches to these difficulties. He has worked directly with individuals as a clinician, offering direct care and case management. He worked as an administrator and program director, overseeing treatment programs for persons who were addicted to opioids. He's also worked on studies exploring various methods of therapy for substance use disorders, and he's spent a lot of time working on policy related to substance abuse, addiction, and recovery. Most importantly, he has a family member who has struggled with substance abuse. Dr. Evans, please accept my greetings.

Arthur Evans (actor): Thank you very much; I'm pleased to be here.

Kaitlin Luna (Kaitlin Luna): The opioid crisis is one of the most serious socioeconomic crises that the United States is now facing. Do you believe that enough is being done to address the problem?

Arthur Evans (actor): Actually, I believe we are not doing enough as a country to address this situation. Every day, over 130 individuals die from opioid overdoses, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. When you consider the impact on not only the number of people who have an opioid-related substance use disorder, but also the impact on families and industry, it is clear that this is a national emergency, and I believe that we need not only a clear national strategy, but also more resources devoted to this issue.

Kaitlin Luna (Kaitlin Luna): You've also stated that the APA and its members can help to reframe the opioid issue. What do you think APA can do to help?

Arthur Evans (actor): Without a doubt. Prior to coming to the APA, I worked in the substance abuse profession for many years. As a result, I worked as an administrator, clinician, and policymaker. And in all of those roles, it becomes evident that we need a new way of thinking about opiate addiction and approaching it. And what I mean by that is that this is a condition that affects not only people physically and even mentally, but it also affects families, communities, and so many other aspects of people's lives, and what happens too often is that the solutions to substance use disorders are almost exclusively focused on treatment, and one of the things I know from my experience, and I believe the research also supports, is that there are many other options. Take, for instance, housing.

People are grappling with concerns relating to comorbid psychological problems. For example, we know that family intervention is critical in treating patients with substance use disorders, but families are rarely included in traditional treatment programs.