At one point, Wilkes County had the third highest number of deaths from opioid overdoses of any county in the nation. And as the epidemic spread, it came to take in Surry and Yadkin counties as well as Ashe and Alleghany, according to statistics from the National Centers for Health Statistics.
There are so many different aspects and numbers which can be investigated when looking into the dilemma of prescription drug use and abuse as well as overdoses — from how people become reliant on them, how it has become such a widespread epidemic, to how to treat people differently for pain relief and how to help people overcome their addictions.
As many of the sources for our stories in today’s edition explain, this problem did not happen overnight and not one facet of the broad-range issue can be found at fault for the epidemic that has been caused. And it can’t be tackled and overcome overnight.
It is going to take many people, in many areas of the community, coming together for a cultural change, to help lessen the number of overdoses and deaths from overdoses caused by opioid use and abuse.
For those going about their daily lives without much knowledge of opioids and their effects on people who use and abuse them, this may not seem like a big deal, but more than 20 deaths in one year, in just one county, which could have easily been avoided by the availability of a reversal drug or the treatment of an addiction, is a big deal.
We praise the state for taking a huge step in making Naloxone, a drug now available at pharmacies statewide, more easily accessible to those who think a family member might need it to reverse an overdose of opioid. Even some police departments, which many times are on a scene before paramedics can arrive, are now carrying the potentially life-saving medication with them on duty.
This step is a recently signed law and one of many steps needed to make a dent in this problem.
The federal government just passed a law, signed by President Barack Obama Friday, which also will aid the cause of those trying to defeat this epidemic. The Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, which should help in many ways, will provide a more comprehensive approach to treating those with addiction, if federal lawmakers will back it with the needed funding to make it possible.
But work is needed from the public on the homefront, in a grassroots effort as well.
Doctors need to find ways of treating their patients’ ailments other than just prescribing opioid-based pain medication. They also need to be comfortable referring patients to those who specialize in pain management. Also, they need to participate in statewide programs available to track patients and the prescriptions they are receiving, so that they are not prescribed more medication than needed. The same is true for pharmacies which need to participate in medication tracking programs.
Law enforcement and counselors need to work together to be sure people with problems aren’t just being arrest and incarcerated, but are also being treated for the long-term for their addictions.
Schools, health officials and parents need to be sure youth in the community understand the dangers of taking a medication which was not prescribed to them, and being able to tell the difference in medication versus candy, which many times looks similar.
Those who do receive prescriptions legitimately need to take extra precautions to secure their medication, keeping them out of reach of youth, hidden from others who might venture to steal them, locking them away with a key only the patient has access to, and being sure to properly dispose of unused pills once an ailment has been treated and medication is no longer needed.
Community members need to rally around those who are suffering from an addiction disease, rather than judging them and shutting them out. As Fred Brason of Project Lazarus explained, addiction is a “bridge-burning disease,” because many times those suffering from addiction use and abuse their friends and family members, so it takes forgiveness and patience to help someone overcome the disease.
All of these efforts — cultural changes which are needed — will help in the battle society now faces with opioid abuse and the resulting overdose deaths which are occurring far too often.
We share these stories with you today, in hopes that you can help take steps to end this epidemic — through awareness of the issue, through participating and be an activist for the end of opioid abuse, through the eradication of the accidental overdose deaths.
Learn more about the opioid abuse and overdose trend, and become involved in the solution to the problem — change your culture and the environment around you.