In episode nine of the Drugs Season series of Just Science podcasts, Dr. Gary Zarkin and Dr. Jeri Ropero-Miller of RTI International are interviewed on issues in the opioid epidemic in the United States, from its origins and history to modern-day strategies for prevention and treatment based on nationwide data and policies.
The professional backgrounds of Zarkin and Ropero-Miller are first reviewed, with attention to their experiences and contributions in addressing drug-abuse data collection, prevention, harm reduction, and treatment. They both view data collection and analysis on drug use, drug types, drug overdose deaths, and prevention and treatment effects as critical for a targeted, cost-effective response to the opioid epidemic in the United States. Such data collection must be nationwide and multidisciplinary. Comprehensive data are envisioned as being delivered to users through a software that displays a "dashboard" that will enable the targeting of resources for drug prevention and treatment to particular areas, drug types, drug causes, and drug users. Such data must be continually updated to account for rapid changes in types of drugs being used, their prevalence in various geographic areas, and their effects. Other issues addressed in the interview are harm reduction through clinics that enable users to consume drugs under managed, safe conditions and an option for treatment; the challenges of polydrug use; rapid changes in the use of novel psychoactive drugs; and the use of performance measures and evaluations for drug prevention and treatment programs. The potential positive and adverse effects of the legalization of marijuana on the use of more dangerous opioids are also discussed.