Drug overdoses now kill more people each year than gun homicides and car crashes combined. And the opioid crisis has become a national emergency.
The Department of Justice recently announced it would award almost $59 million in grants for programs addressing the opioid epidemic across the country.
Nearly 60,000 Americans died because of drug overdoses in 2016, with the majority of those deaths attributed to opioids.
In 2015, 52,000 people died from drug overdose–33,000 of those were from opioids alone. Since the early 1990s, U.S. opioid prescribing rates have more than tripled.
“On the other hand, those that are denied them now can’t get a prescription for them, they can’t afford them out on the street because those pills are worth 10 to 20 dollars. They have turned to heroine, which is a cheaper source of a high, and this has led to the increase of overdoses from the literature that I have read,” said Nurse Practitioner/Lawyer Joe Flores.
One national chain is looking to make a difference. CVS announced it’s limiting opioid prescriptions such as Vicodin and OxyContin to a seven-day supply for certain conditions. The company is also limiting the daily dosage of opioids dispensed based on the strength of the drug.
But it is going to take more than one organization to address our nation’s opioid crisis.
“This is not going to happen overnight. So it is going to take a full prong approach. The Government, Department of Justice, Medicare and Medicaid, Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, Physicians Assistants, the Media, and it is also going to take a great amount of education from our leaders,” said Flores.
One way of monitoring this crisis is by helping educate patients about the risk of using opioids and setting up programs to help those who are addicted.
“Doctors and Nurse Practitioners are monitoring those patients that are on medications and being given urinalysis, and also being encouraged to not mix drugs. And then those patients are often being weaned off those drugs and given other alternatives therapies, including injections, cortisone, and also medications that are non-opioid based,” said Flores.
“Programs are going to be set just like they did for heroine and methadone, and continue to do. There is a reverse or competing medication that can compete for the opioid that makes people feel good or high. And so the medication is going to be used. Programs are going to be used to educate the public to reduce the risk of opioid overdose, mixing it with other drugs. Also at the local level, the health department will be helping out, and we are also going to have individuals out there that are going to be sending public service messages," said Flores.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, the average pill supply prescribed by doctors in the U.S. increased from 13 days in 2006 to 18 days in 2015. The report states patients are at risk of continuing opioids long-term once they have received them for more than five days, and are unlikely to discontinue use after they have received them for 90 days.
Opiates cover a huge variety of drugs, ranging from legal drugs such as fentanyl, codeine, and morphine to illegal drugs such as heroin and opium.
Examples of opiates include:
· Oxycodone (trade names include: OxyContin and Percocet).
· Hydrocodone (trade names include: Vicodin and Lortab).
· Continued use despite knowing it is leading to or worsening a psychological problem
· Poor Judgment
· Inability to make decisions
· Inability to Plan
· Poor concentration or attention
· Memory problems
· Opioids are taken for longer or at higher doses
· The individual unsuccessfully tries to cut down on the amount used unsuccessfully
· The individual spends a lot of time obtaining, using or dealing with the consequences of the opioid
· Opioid restricts the individual’s ability to meet their responsibilities in different areas of life
· The individual does not stop using the drug despite knowing it is causing interpersonal problems
· Avoidance of previously important activities
· Continued use in situations which could be hazardous
· Cravings for the drug
· Sleepiness or Sedation
· Numbness or inability to feel pain
· Depressed Respiration
· Small Pupils
· Nausea, Vomiting
· Rashes or flushed skin
· Slurred Speech
· The development of tolerance:
· Needing more of the drug to achieve the desired effect
· When taking the same amount the effects of the drug diminish over time
· Withdrawal symptoms with no longer taking the drug or decreasing the dose
· Drug is taken to avoid withdrawal symptoms
There are a number of effects that result from the use of opioids. These include:
· Feeling tired, fatigued, and sedated
· Constricted pupils leading to decreased sight in dim or darkened conditions
· Nausea and vomiting
· Chest pain
· Decreased respiration and trouble breathing
· Physical and psychological addiction
Withdrawal symptoms resulting from the decrease of cessation of the opioid can vary depending on the specific type of opioid taken, the dose and the length of time the individual has been dependent on the drug. Common withdrawal symptoms include:
· Negative mood
· Muscle and joint pain
· Runny nose
· Drug cravings seem intolerable
· Rapid breathing
· Yawning due to decreased oxygen intake
· Increased Salivation
· Goosebumps or chills
· Nasal stuffiness
· Abdominal cramps
· Confusion or disorientation
· Enlarged pupils
· Loss of appetite
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