Monday, June 15, 2015

The Epidemic

Today's post will not cover any event related details. In fact, this is a very sad but true post. Over the weekend, a community gained an angel when a great friend, son, brother, teacher and coach fell victim to drug use at last. My heart hurts for this community and all effected by the desire to 'get high'. This is not the only drug related loss I've experienced this year and I'm not sure it will be the last. I think we all feel the same way when I pose the question, "why is this happening?".

Why? Because it's an epidemic. There is a slew of reasons as to why people want to get high. They want to avoid reality, take the pain away for a little while, have an outer-body experience. But what they don't realize is that what seems to be in their control really isn't. They might think prescription pills are safe, well newsflash, they aren't. If you're buying them off the streets, chances are they were made with chemicals that will in fact kill you. Even if you get them from a prescription bottle, they still aren't taken as directed or may not have even been prescribed for you. No one has any control. No one is safe.

In a recent post by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it was stated that in a period of nine months, a tiny Kentucky county of fewer than 12,000 people saw a 53-year-old mother, her 35-year-old son, and seven others die by overdosing on prescription painkillers obtained from pain clinics in Florida. In Utah, a 13-year-old fatally overdoses on oxycodone pills taken from a friend’s grandmother. A 20-year-old Boston man dies from an overdose of methadone, only a year after his friend also died from a prescription painkiller overdose. These are not isolated events. Each day, 44 people in the United States die from overdose of prescription painkillers. We are losing this battle by the minute.

People who take prescription painkillers can become addicted with just one prescription. Once addicted, it can be hard to stop. In 2013, nearly two million Americans abused prescription painkillers. Taking too many prescription painkillers can stop a person’s breathing—leading to death. It is becoming common practice to prescribe painkillers after surgery or for cancer patients, making these drugs easier to come by. Now I'm not blaming it on this reason as to why people are losing their lives because it's not why. They're losing their lives because this is the next high, the next fix, the new thing they want to get their hands on and now it's a lot easier and possible to do so.

And I'm referring to 'they' as people who abuse drugs. 'They' are technically addicts. But 'they' are still human and 'they' still love their families. 'They' are just fighting something within that most of us do not understand. We are all wired differently. We need to understand that. We need to be that support system and help as much as 'they' want to be helped.

Painkillers are not the only popular drug being abused right now; heroin is on the rise and taking many, many unexpected lives. Published on May 25th, WCVB shares a story on the heroin epidemic right here in Massachusetts. Plymouth counted 15 drug-related deaths last year and 313 overdoses, a total 50 percent greater than Taunton's, a city of similar size that once had been considered the face of the drug epidemic. This year, Plymouth is on track to smash its own grim record. By Saturday, the town had recorded 136 overdoses, an average of exactly one a day, and 10 related deaths. The opioid crisis has swept through cities and towns all across Massachusetts, accounting for more than 1,000 deaths last year, state officials said.

How are some of these lives saved? Because trained medical personnel, police force and fire departments in areas are now carrying Narcan. On April 3rd 2014, the Food and Drug Administration approved narcan, a prescription treatment that can be used by the trained medical personnel, police force and fire department as well as family members or caregivers to treat a person known or suspected to have had an opioid overdose. This drug is stabilizing overdose victims long enough to make it to the hospital in order to save their lives. Narcan is an opioid antagonist that prevents or reverses the effects of an overdose including respiratory depression, sedation and hypotension.

There's got to be something more though. Something else we can do to help prevent these overdoses. The Department of Health and Human Services has started an initiative for the U.S. that smaller communities can learn from and implement in our own cities and towns. The HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced on March 26th, a targeted initiative aimed at reducing prescription opioid and heroin related overdose, death and dependence.

The President’s FY 2016 budget includes critical investments to intensify efforts to reduce opioid misuse and abuse, including $133 million in new funding to address this critical issue. The Secretary’s efforts focus on three priority areas that tackle the opioid crisis, significantly impacting those struggling with substance use disorders and helping save lives.
  1. Providing training and educational resources, including updated prescriber guidelines, to assist health professionals in making informed prescribing decisions and address the over-prescribing of opioids.
  2. Increasing use of naloxone (narcan), as well as continuing to support the development and distribution of the life-saving drug, to help reduce the number of deaths associated with prescription opioid and heroin overdose.
  3. Expanding the use of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), a comprehensive way to address the needs of individuals that combines the use of medication with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders.
Addressing the opioid crisis is a top priority for the department and the Secretary is committed to bipartisan solutions and evidence-informed interventions to turn the tide against opioid drug-related overdose and misuse. Deaths from drug overdose have risen steadily over the past two decades and currently outnumber deaths from car accidents in the United States. Given these alarming trends, it is time for a sustainable response to prevent and treat opioid use disorders.
A small start in our communities would be to bring back D.A.R.E. programs in elementary, middle, and highschools. Drug Abuse Resistance Education is an unprecedented and innovative substance abuse prevention education program in classrooms across the globe. Informing students of the consequences of drug use and abuse can get them to say "no" or get help when they're feeling pressured or depressed and are in the presence of drugs. D.A.R.E. also provides ways for parents to talk to their children about drugs. This is probably the most important factor in the fight against drug use. Be honest and express how you would feel if drug use became a problem for your child. It's a start to the battle with this epidemic. Also be aware of the signs of addiction; changes in behavior, changes in social groups, speak up!
Seeking treatment is another factor. There are a number of facilities in Massachusetts that specialize in detoxification. Sometimes if there's an issue with the person and the legal system, detox is mandatory. This process may not always help but the effort is promising. Visiting a therapist to get to the root of why drug use is necessary for the person involved is also key. Support and understanding goes a long way, being with family and staying committed can help the person overcome so much.
Many communities are also holding small vigils to remember those lost to this terrible disease. At these vigils, overdose survivors or previous addicts tell their stories and speak of their ongoing recovery. It has become a healing process among towns and cities across Massachusetts. The sole goal though is to educate the masses on what it's like to lose the fight as well as overcoming the struggles of addiction. I can't get this point across any stronger; please educate those around you of the growing number of losses due to drug use and abuse. It only takes one time to become addicted or even one time to overdose.
I am so sad to be attending this wake on Wednesday knowing a friend lost his life to this epidemic but at the same time his death will become an opportunity to open the eyes of a community that may not be aware of the drug abuse happening in their town and surrounding cities. It's time to address the issue and support those struggling in memory of him and all those who've lost their lives to addiction. Let us all stand strong, together, with our heads high as we wage war on the epidemic. Our angels have given us a mission and it's time to fulfill it in honor of them.

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