A number of major media outlets have taken it upon themselves, and for good reason, to shine a light on prescription opioid and heroin abuse. For over a decade now, our nation has been severely affected by the opioid epidemic, a crisis that takes over 70 lives a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While health agencies and lawmakers are working hard to increase access to both the life saving overdose reversal drug naloxone and addiction treatment, there is still a lot more that needs to be done to combat the calamity. This week, the United States Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). If the bill passes in the House, the legislation will give the Attorneys General the power to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use. The funding will be used for strengthening a number of programs and initiatives, including: addiction education and prevention, prescription drug monitoring and treatment. CARA is just one effort among a multifaceted interagency approach to addressing the opiate epidemic. The White House, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, et al., are all committed to saving lives and providing access to substance use disorder treatment. What’s more, there is still a lot that the American public does not understand about the drug crisis and the true scope of the disease of addiction. Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) along with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released a film: “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict”. The film was created mainly for young Americans, and was essentially a call to action for the public to take part in ending the opioid epidemic. Towards the end of February, PBS aired a new "Frontline" documentary "Chasing Heroin." The film is nearly 2 hours long, and took a year to film. The documentary covers a number of elements of the epidemic, but perhaps the most interesting aspect was the coverage of how law enforcement is addressing the problem. Police officers are acting as social workers and not jail taxis, instead of slapping on the handcuffs they are referring addicts to addiction treatment services. You can watch a short clip below or watch the full documentary by clicking here. Tonight, ABC News will air a special edition of "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET. "Breaking Point: Heroin in America." The report covers the ongoing heroin epidemic in New Hampshire. “When you realize that nearly everyone you meet has been touched by the drug in some way, that’s really eye-opening,” said David Muir. “It helps begin a conversation out there, and the more we can be part of the conversation, the better.” We hope that everyone, whether the opioid epidemic has touched you or not, will take time to watch the important documentaries. We can all have a hand in the solution to this insidious problem.
There is little debate regarding the insidious nature of opioid addiction, a scourge that has been tearing American families apart for over a decade. The prescription opioid painkiller epidemic stems from a change in modalities with doctors and how they manage a patient’s pain. Gauging a patient’s pain is no easy task because pain intensity is subjective. Doctors are required to treat a person’s pain adequately, which has resulted in rampant overprescribing and a subsequent rise in addiction rates. After a decade and a half of overprescribing opioids, both federal and state governments had had enough. In more recent years, practically every state implemented prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) to track patients who fill multiple prescriptions of the same types of drugs. Before such programs were put in place, patients could visit multiple doctors in a week complaining of the same ailment - giving them the ability to accumulate more pills than any one person could use in a month. The medications, often paid for by state assistance programs, were then resold at inflated prices to those who would abuse the drugs. Government crackdowns on prescription opioid abuse made it more difficult for addicts to acquire drugs, such as oxycodone (OxyContin ®), due to scarcity and heightened pricing. Curbing painkiller abuse had an unintended consequence, addicts left with few options turned to heroin - a cheaper and often more potent substance. In the last decade, heroin use more than doubled among young adults ages 18–25, and 45% of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription opioids, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Opioids, whether by prescription or bought on the street in the form of heroin, are not just highly addictive, misuse can result in a fatal overdose. The CDC reports that 44 people die every day from an overdose. Thankfully, if an overdose victim is discovered in time, their life can be spared. The drug naloxone hydrochloride has life saving potential, reversing the effects of a prescription opioid or heroin overdose. Until recently, naloxone was only approved for use in the form of injection by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Naloxone injections, while effective, requires the administrator to be proficient in giving injections - ruling out the majority of people who are first to discover an overdose victim. This week, the FDA announced the approval of a nasal spray version of naloxone, which first responders say is easier to use, according to an FDA news release. Naloxone nasal kits eliminate the risk of a contaminated needle prick. While unapproved, many first responders, such as EMTs and police officers, used naloxone with nasal spray adapters; now, the nasal spray devices will meet the FDA’s high standards for safety, efficacy and quality. What’s more, the nasal spray does not require extensive training to administer, meaning that a mother, father or even child can save the life of a loved one. A number of states and municipalities have lighten the restrictions on who can have access to the life saving drug, hopefully the new approval will convince other states to follow suit. The majority of overdose victims are discovered by a friend or family member. With overdoses, time is of the essence, the sooner naloxone is administered - the greater the chance of saving a life.
Combating the opioid abuse epidemic is a top priority for the FDA,” said Stephen Ostroff, M.D., acting commissioner, Food and Drug Administration. “We cannot stand by while Americans are dying. While naloxone will not solve the underlying problems of the opioid epidemic, we are speeding to review new formulations that will ultimately save lives that might otherwise be lost to drug addiction and overdose.”___________________________________________________________________________ If you are or a loved one is struggling with prescription opioids or heroin, please contact Pace Recovery Center.
As the federal government and the implementation of state prescription drug monitoring programs make it more difficult for opioid abusers to get their hands on OxyContin ® (oxycodone), many have turned to heroin as an easier, cheaper and stronger alternative. When compared to a decade ago, today it is much easier for opioid addicts to get their hands on heroin - resulting in a surge of heroin overdoses across the country. “Most people who use heroin in the U.S. today used prescription opioids first. Reducing inappropriate prescribing will prevent overdose from prescription opioids and heroin,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a news release. Heroin overdose deaths nearly tripled from 2010 to 2013 in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In California, emergency departments have seen a six-fold increase in heroin poisonings in the last decade, Reuters reports. In 2014 alone, California emergency rooms treated 1,300 young adults between the ages of 20 and 29 for heroin poisoning. "It's consistent with what we're seeing in our narcotic treatment programs - just a lot more young people," said Tom Renfree, who heads substance abuse disorder services for the County Behavioral Health Directors Association in Sacramento. "There's been a real spike." Heroin poisoning is not exclusive to overdoses; it also represents those who used a product ‘cut’ with something potentially lethal, according to the article. Across the country, there has been a rise in heroin cut with the opioid analgesic Fentanyl ®, users are often unaware just how powerful Fentanyl ® (100 times the strength of morphine) is, making dosing extremely difficult. Young adults were not the only age group affected in recent years. During the same period, adults ages 30 to 39 who were seen in emergency rooms for heroin poisoning doubled - from about 300 to about 600. Among teenagers, in 2014 there were 367 teens treated for heroin poisoning - compared with about 250 in 2005.