The word epidemic often is overused in an effort to sensationalize the spread of a disease or phenomena by overzealous commentators bent on hyperbolizing their subject matter for the sake of ratings. By definition epidemic means: 1) an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time; 2) an outbreak or product of sudden rapid spread, growth, or development. Unfortunately, the spread of opioid use, abuse, addiction and overdose is indeed, by even the strictest definition, an epidemic. An estimated 2.1 million Americans are addicted to opioids according to the National Institute on Drug abuse. So widespread is the problem that opioid addiction is now responsible for more annual deaths than car crashes and even gun deaths, and it is affecting communities all across the country, including in Mississippi.
Well-Being will be taking a look at the opioid crisis in a series of articles that focus on what opioids are, why the epidemic has spread so quickly and what the healthcare industry, insurance companies, law enforcement and others are doing to stem the tide. In this, the first of our series, we address what we all should know to protect our families and communities from this growing threat.
Healthcare providers are on the frontlines of the battle against the opioid epidemic. In the course of investigating the opioid problem, we spoke to a number of healthcare professionals including representatives of the Mississippi Nurses Association. The American Nurses Association and Mississippi Nurses Association are taking prominent roles in helping to develop and carry out education, treatment and prevention strategies to reverse the alarming rise in opioid addiction and deaths.
Debra Allen, President of the Mississippi Nurses Association (MSN), explains role the nursing profession is taking to help reverse this crisis. “We are acutely aware of the opioid epidemic’s devastating impact on patients and its economic strain on Mississippi’s healthcare system,” Ms. Allen explains. “We, as RNs and APRNs, must be on the forefront of promoting awareness of the dangers of opioid abuse and misuse to our patients and our communities. MSN recently adopted a resolution to promote nurses’ awareness of the problem, we are hosting comprehensive nurse education sessions and are including information about opioid abuse in MS RN, a newsletter mailed to all Mississippi licensed nurses. MNA is also working diligently with other healthcare professionals to combat Mississippi’s opioid epidemic.”
In coming articles in the series we will be talking to physicians, pharmacists, therapists, members of law enforcement and others who are integral to comprehensive efforts to address this epidemic.
We know that the danger of opioid abuse and addiction threatens every demographic and walk of life, across all ages and ethnicities. The biggest mistake we can make is to believe it can’t happen in our towns, on our streets, or to members of our own family.
Opioids are a class of drug, which includes legal prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and fentanyl, as well as illicit drugs such as heroin. They work by reducing the perception of pain producing a sense of euphoria., relief of pain and an overwhelming sense of wellbeing.
When opioids are introduced to the body by ingestion, inhalation or injection, they enter the bloodstream and make their way to the brain where they activate the reward center of the brain, which is hard-wired to remember the action that lead to the feeling of pleasure and to seek that action again. Over time as the brain becomes less sensitive to the effects of opioids the body requires more and more opioids to achieve the desired feelings of pleasure and pain relief.
Prescriptions for opioid painkillers quadrupled in the U.S. between 1999 and 2014. According to the CDC, an audit by the IMS, National Prescription Audit in 2012, in Mississippi 120 painkiller prescriptions were written per hundred people, giving Mississippi some of the highest prescription rates for painkillers in the nation.
Prescription opioid abuse may start with a prescription for painkillers after a surgery or injury. Over time, it may evolve into borrowing, buying, or stealing pain pills from friends, relatives, or strangers. But when prescription opioids become harder and harder to find, or too expensive to purchase, the path of opioid addiction often takes a darker turn toward illegal opioids such as heroin and fentanyl that are less expensive and often easier to get on the street. Previous misuse of prescription opioids is the biggest risk factor for beginning heroin use. Approximately 3 out of 4 new heroin users report having abused prescription drugs before starting heroin.
Most overdose deaths in Mississippi are accidental, caused by prescription drugs. Proper storage and disposal of medications can prevent injuries and deaths from drug abuse and drug overdoses.
How can you keep your family safe from opioid abuse and addiction?
There are things you can do to protect your loved ones against the opioid epidemic.
Here’s how to protect yourself and your family:
The Mississippi Department of Public Safety (DPS) has set up drop off locations around the state of Mississippi for disposal of unwanted, expired, and unused household medications at the agency’s Driver’s License Renewal Locations. Citizens may bring unwanted prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and other similar medicinal items (liquid or solid form) to any of the participating locations so the drugs may be disposed of safely.
The opioid epidemic is serious. It’s affecting the lives of people all across America, destroying lives and devastating families and communities. These people are not strangers. They are our neighbors, friends, and family members. The more we know about the dangers and risks of opioid abuse and addiction, the better we can arm ourselves against the danger. And, the sooner we can begin to turn the tide.