There is a public health epidemic that knows no prejudice. Doctors and lawyers, housewives and honor-roll students; all races, nationalities and socio-economic strata can fall victim to it. There is no known cure except to limit exposure, which in itself can be hard. And in this case, too much of a “safe” thing can lead to ruined lives and death.
This epidemic is called the Opioid Crisis, and it is of such public concern that upon taking office, President Trump made it one of his first orders of business to ensure there were adequate funding and public awareness of this deadly, preventable epidemic that, in 2016, claimed 64,000 lives nationwide.
Prescribed to Death
The opioid crisis happening in our Nation today is very real and of incredible concern, yet most people are not aware that opioid abuse can happen in their own home, oftentimes in the most innocent of situations, starting with a prescription for a recently extracted wisdom tooth, chronic back pain, or joint replacement surgery. In fact, 1.2 million Americans struggle with opioid addition and one person dies every 12.5 minutes from an opioid overdose. And in Travis County, overdoses claim an average of about 125 people each year, 42 percent of them due to opioids. Many people are often “prescribed to death.”
“Use for pain only when needed”
For a long while, opioids were the prescription of choice to help ease chronic pain. Opioids, when taken as prescribed for a very limited period, can be effective for pain relief. However, long-term use can be addictive, with the body believing that it can only function whilst on opioids. Statistics show that up to one-third of people prescribed opioids for pain end up misusing the medicine and about one in ten develop an addiction. This may lead them to seek out increasingly stronger substances, like heroin, to sustain that pain-free feeling.
A Tough Battle
Fighting an opioid epidemic is more difficult than fighting an epidemic for other substances because opioids are not illegal. Unlike heroin, doctors can prescribe opioids for individuals who need them to cope with pain. Opioids taken under the supervision of a doctor can be safe, but how does a doctor measure something as subjective as pain? One patient may take one pain killer and be fine; another may take advantage of a 30-day supply and request more when the month is up. Plus, heading to one doctor for back pain does not prevent a patient from seeking out another for joint pain.
Naloxone as an Antidote
Naloxone is a medication that is proven effective to reverse an opioid overdose from happening and help an overdosing person to become stable. Similar to EpiPens, naloxone is available in injection form as well as a nasal spray form. Recently, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams sent out an advisory urging more people – especially those who are at risk of an opioid overdose or have friends or family members who may be facing this risk – to carry naloxone with them in case of emergency. And while first responders, emergency medical professionals and law enforcement officers often carry naloxone with them, more than half of overdoses happen at home. This means that in an emergency situation, a family member or friend may have to administer the naloxone to the patient when time is of the essence.
Education and Awareness
If the medication comes from a doctor, it must be safe, right? This is true, but doctors also know that highly addictive medications, like painkillers, can have power over a patient, even if they are reading the labels and taking as prescribed. In fact, many medical professionals are recommending over-the-counter anti-inflammatories in lieu of painkillers because too often the pain is a result of inflammation.
Like with any public health crisis, it’s crucial that the general public be aware, educated and participate in the initiative to actively prevent it from continuing. Some courses of action one can take with regard to opiates is to be vocal with your doctor and look for alternative courses of treatment, therapies, and medications so that you don’t put you or a loved one at risk.
If you know anyone who is being prescribed opioids by their doctor, make them aware of the dangers of opioid addiction and encourage them to also keep naloxone with them. The more people get educated about the dangers of opioid addiction and overdosing, as well as the preventative measures available, the quicker we can put a stop to the opioid epidemic.
One thing you can do is ask your doctor to prescribe naloxone if you or someone you care for is at risk and recommend to your workplace, schools, and other institutions that they keep naloxone handy in case of emergencies.
If you are looking for a reputable and experienced team of doctors to discuss the risks of opioids and alternative ways of treating chronic pain, the client-focused experts at Balcones Pain Consultants are happy to help. Call 512-834-4141 to make an appointment today at one of their three locations in Austin, Cedar Park, or Marble Falls.