The Opioid Epidemic

Margaret Brackett - Contributing Columnist

We are in the midst of our nation’s deadliest drug epidemic ever!

Over 20 million people have substance use disorders. According to the CDC, overdose deaths caused by opioids have quadrupled since 1999. Drug overuse is a nationwide epidemic that claims the lives of an average of 144 people each day in the United States, making it the nation’s leading cause of death due to accidental injury.

Opioids, both prescription painkillers and illegal drugs such as heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, are responsible for most of these deaths. In South Carolina, deaths associated with opioids continue to rise each year, now surpassing deaths caused by homicides.

Anyone taking opioids may be a risk for possible overdose. The risk increases if you take higher doses of opioids, take them with alcohol, combine them with certain medicines, or have other medical conditions (HIV, liver or lung disease or depression). In 2015, more than 22,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids —about 62 deaths a day.

Americans over 50 are using narcotic pain pills in surprisingly high numbers, and many are becoming addicted. Dependence can also start with legitimate prescription from a doctor. A well-meant extended treatment for knee surgery or chronic back troubles is often the path to an addicted outcome.

South Carolina Data: 8,071 patients discharged from emergency departments related to opiate use; 3,855 patients were discharged from (ED) with issues related to overdose in 2016. There has been a 135 percent increase in service utilization to disorder treatment programs. There were 616 opioid-related overdose deaths in South Carolina.

What are opioids? Opioids work by attaching to structures in your brain called “receptors” and send signals that block pain, slow breathing and calm the body down. Because they affect the part of the brain that controls breathing, if opioid levels in your blood are too high, your breathing can slow down to dangerous levels, which could even cause death.

Preventing Overdose: To address the growing epidemic, new evidence-based treatment programs are increasingly being implemented; which makes recovery possible to many people who struggle with addiction. It is imperative, however, that we also increase the availability of naloxone, an overdose-reversal medication, so that we can help individuals survive long enough to seek treatment.

What is Naloxone? Naloxone is a safe and extremely effective medication that reverses the effects of opioids, and allows the person experiencing an opioid overdose to start breathing and wake up. Naloxone administration serves a vital role in preventing deaths caused by opioid overdose. The form of naloxone being used with this program is known as Narcan.

Many times, law enforcement officers are the first to arrive on a scene. Time matters in an opiate overdose, because the person may not be breathing. The ability to deliver Narcan in the first few minutes can save someone’s life.

Effective Responses: Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the use of combination with counseling and behavioral therapies. The safety and efficacy of MAT has been unequivocally established. (M)ethadone maintenance coupled with relevant social, medical and psychological services has the highest probability of being the most effective of all treatments for opioid addiction.

Information provided: DAODAS(Linda Brown) Newberry DFC Coalition Seminar, SC ATOD (SC Assn for Opioid Dependence).

Margaret Brackett

Contributing Columnist

Margaret Brackett is from Newberry. Her columns appear weekly in The Newberry Observer.

Margaret Brackett is from Newberry. Her columns appear weekly in The Newberry Observer.