“We have met the enemy, and he is us!”
Pogo, Cartoon, Walt Kelly, 1913-1973
Over the past several months I have continued to write to you about Opioids, and the effect it is currently having within our society. I have continually tracked the upward climb in Opioid overdoses in our nation for the past decade. My colleagues and I have long predicted the problems associated with the up-swing in the use and abuse, and the subsequent overdoses, of Opioids and their synthetic counterparts.
Yes my friends, we are at war here in our nation…the battles fought against the drug epidemic are most profound, and having a very serious impact on our citizenry; and as I have previously written to you about, the deaths of overdoses from Opioids have long exceeded all of the American deaths occurred from all of engaged wars since World War II.
Last week, President Trump met with a group of individuals with extreme concern about our Opioid epidemic, headed up by the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. Among the group meeting with President Trump were individuals in recovery from Opioid Addiction, professionals, and lay persons concerned about the problems.
President Trump has set up a commission, with Governor Christie serving as chairman, to address the nation’s growing opioid epidemic. Governor Christie’s State of New Jersey is grappling with a rise in the rate of drug overdose deaths, which have surpassed murders and automobile accidents…a problem that appears to be spreading across our nation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have related that deaths from overdose of opioids, which include prescription painkillers as well as heroin, have reached epidemic status in the United States; and nearly one-half of those overdose deaths from Opioids (33,000 nationwide in 2015 alone) involved prescription drugs. The newly formed Commission will take on prevention and interdiction, with particular attention to addiction recovery and improving access to treatment.
The president has budgeted for $675 million to combat drug trafficking and the Opioid epidemic, that is over $175 million more than last year. Additionally, he has proposed $500 million to address treatment and prevention efforts as carried out by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This is very good news my friends.
At one time the physicians in the Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals and clinics, as well as physician services across our nation, handed out prescriptions for Opioid drugs “willy nilly,” like candy. This is no longer the case.
With new prescribing standards from the American Medical Association (AMA), the VA, and other organizations; Opioid medications are much harder to come by, and is one of the reasons that individuals are turning to illicit Opioid substances, such as Heroin, and to “black marketing” of the prescription drugs.
As a review, there are natural and synthesized opioids. Natural opioids are those derived directly from the Scarlet Opium Poppy; the bulb of which excretes a latex like substance which is opium in its pure form. From this pure form of Opium the drugs Morphine, Codeine, Thebaine, Heroin, and Oripavine are processed and derived directly from the opium.
These drugs are in the classification of Depressive Drugs, interacting with the natural brain chemicals to induce narcotic, depressive states in the brain; and used medicinally whether prescribed or non-prescribed to relieve Pain. Semisynthetic derivatives of prescription Opioids include the drugs Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Buprenorphine, Oxymorphone, Hydromorphone, and Fentanyl.
Over the years these medications have helped many, many people manage their pain; as they are supposed to do, and we are most grateful to their discovery and manufacturing. However, these medications are very often abused and can be, and very often are, highly addictive and have a high potential for overdose resulting in death; thus the terrible situation we currently find ourselves experiencing in the U.S.
As I have reported in previous articles on the subject, the spike in Opioid related deaths is occurring across gender, age, and ethnic bounds; the highest spike is among White males, ages 45 and up. Children as young as two have died from ingestion of Opioids. With the known statistics available from the CDC and other national agencies regarding hospital emergency room visits and overdose deaths, it is still unknown what that means to the Lower Rio Grande Valley communities.
Yes, we can extrapolate the figures down to match our population, which would tell us that there are approximately 100 deaths per year from overdose, but the figures cannot tell us how many individuals, show up in the hospital emergency rooms for attempted suicide or accidental overdose on Opioids. I suspect the deaths are much higher and that the rates of emergency room visits are equally high. Unfortunately, hospital ER’s and clinic ER’s are very reluctant to release information on these statistics.
National statistics always lag behind the contemporary facts; the federal statistics about 2 years, and our State of Texas statistics often quite more, and local area statistics are, in reality, unavailable on the matter; so it is my contention that we too are experiencing a spike in the statistics as are other States and local areas.
We do know that it is a most serious problem in our nation and is great cause for concern; as evidenced from recent news from the CDC and other government and reporting agencies, and the matter being addressed by our President and his commission.
Now, I am not an alarmist. I am however a realist, and my colleagues and I whom have been, and still are, engaged in the Substance Abuse and Addictions arenas, know this is a major problem that needs addressing immediately. I call upon our educators, physicians, and leaders within our Valley communities to be apprised of this growing threat; to prepare and act on prevention of this most terrible problem.
If you or your loved ones are having problems with Opioids, remember there is a lot of help available in our Valley communities, such as the Substance Abuse Services Department within the Tropical Texas Behavioral Health Centers…you just need to reach out to them.
Let us not be our own worst enemy. Until next time, Stay Healthy My Friends!