We still have an opioid epidemic - here is what you can do to help
Opioid-related deaths and overdoses are part of a national crisis that our state, like many others, is still struggling with.Posted — Updated
For the first time in five years, North Carolina has experienced a drop in accidental opioid-related overdose deaths. While this is a step in the right direction, Dr. Carlyle Johnson worries this downtrend may encourage complacency within the general public who think the problem is well on its way to being solved.
"The opioid crisis is still killing more people every year than died in the entire Vietnam War. It's still a major cause of accidental death and it's affecting our life expectancy rate," said Johnson, director of Provider Network Strategy and Initiatives at Alliance Health. Alliance Health is a managed care organization for public behavioral health that serves citizens in Durham, Wake, Cumberland and Johnston counties.
"We tend to focus on the opioid deaths, but there's also a tremendous impact on societal productivity, on families, on the foster care system and on the judicial system," Johnson emphasized.
Johnson pointed out the opioid epidemic affects almost everyone, whether directly or indirectly. For example, many people in the criminal justice system are dealing with a substance use disorder, a mental illness or both, and taxpayers are bearing the costs of increased incarceration.
Addiction impacts families, children can be left without functioning parental units and the economy suffers when people are unable to contribute to the community through gainful employment. The opioid epidemic is a national crisis because its trickle effects can be seen and felt throughout society.
While a daunting problem, there are ways both individuals and medical professionals can help. A few years ago, Alliance Health looked closely at the North Carolina State Opioid Action Plan to see where and how it could contribute to fighting this epidemic. The primary role for Alliance in addressing the opioid crisis has been to expand access to evidence-based treatment, and it has increased the number of uninsured individuals receiving treatment by more than 1000 percent.
In addition to its role in expanding treatment availability, Alliance saw a need for more public information about ways to address the crisis.
What Individuals Can Do to Help
Alliance Health believes when it comes to the opioid epidemic, we can all do something. Taking action to help combat the opioid crisis can be as simple as following the steps below.
"Sixty-seven percent of people who misuse prescription medications get them from friends and family, and only 5 percent of children who misuse prescription medications say they get them from a stranger, a drug dealer or the Internet," AllianceforAction.org states. "Securing your medication in your home and properly disposing of leftover medications can keep them from being misused."
Naloxone is an antidote to opioid overdose and reverses the effects of opioids by blocking opioid receptor sites. Naloxone can restore normal breathing in a person who has stopped breathing or has slowed breathing as a result of opioid overdose.
A quick response when using naloxone is essential and it can be administered by a family member, friend or caregiver. The antidote begins working in two to five minutes and stops the effects of opioids for up to 90 minutes. However, the effects are temporary and professional medical treatment should be sought out immediately.
As mentioned, many people are unaware of the signs of opioid misuse and addiction. Be sure you are aware of and recognize the following warning signs in people who may be misusing these medications:
- Excessive mood swings
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Taking higher doses than prescribed
- Poor decision making
- Getting different prescriptions from more than one doctor
What Medical Professionals Can Do to Help
Medical professionals are in a unique position to help combat the opioid epidemic and can help prevent addiction and promote recovery.
"Primary care centers, hospital emergency rooms, trauma centers and other community settings serve as opportunities for early intervention with at-risk substance users before more severe consequences occur," stated AllianceforAction.org. "In the SBIRT process, individuals making their annual visits to providers complete a standardized questionnaire about risky substance use behaviors. Based on their answers, they may receive intervention feedback, motivation and advice, or referral to treatment if warranted."
There are some red flags only a medical professional may pick up on. If you are a doctor or a pharmacist, be on the lookout for the following:
Signs of addiction which include:
- Loss of control
- Craving or preoccupation with use
- Continued use despite the consequences
- Seemingly forged or altered prescriptions
- Prescriptions originating from outside the immediate geographic area
- Cash only payments
- Inconsistent or early fills
- Multiple prescribers
As Gov. Roy Cooper said, "The opioid crisis is one of the biggest challenges we face across our state." However, with the help of everyone in our community coming together to fight this epidemic, we have a higher chance of overcoming it.
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