How to prevent deaths due to opioids

Published Feb 25, 2018 at 9:00am

You are surely reading that that there are a lot of deaths due to overdose of heroin or other opiates.

Currently deaths due to opiates (or opioids) occur more often than deaths due to automobile accidents. Is there any way that we can all help to bring these numbers down? 

Prescription opiates, including hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl and others, should be used for severe, short-term pain. They are commonly prescribed for a few days after surgery or after orthopedic injuries.

It is strongly recommended that opiates not be prescribed for chronic pain, such as backache and headache. Research shows that opiates are not effective for chronic pain and the risk of addiction is high. Consequently, most doctors have cut back on their prescribing practices and the result can be, sadly, that an addicted patient may turn to illegal drugs, such as heroin.

The use of illegal drugs has always been dangerous. Heroin, and fentanyl are sold by drug dealers on street corners. Fentanyl is an opiate that is stronger than heroin and is now often added to heroin, resulting in a combination is extremely dangerous. People who are addicted to opioids buy and use these drugs, because they are fearful of the terrible reaction they will have if they stop them. Yet the dosage is unknown, and an overdose can be fatal.

How can we help? If you are taking prescription opioids, consider whether you may be addicted. Talk to your doctor about cutting back and using non-addicting alternatives. Consider whether you need drug rehab or addiction services.

If someone is in your household who uses opioids, and that person becomes confused, unsteady, or unconscious, call 911 and tell them that an overdose may have occurred. The EMTs have an antidote available. The antidote is called Narcan, and it is also available in pharmacies for you to keep in your home.

Advocate for rehab services and addiction services in your community. Offer to volunteer in these programs. Donate generously to any group that helps addicts get off of opioids. Be sympathetic of addicts. We all have weaknesses, and drug addicts have great difficulty stopping.

There is a group (like Alcoholics Anonymous) that is called Narcotics Anonymous (or NA). If you have a problem, go to a meeting and decide if it will be helpful for you or your loved one who is addicted. Look up NA-Recovery on the Internet and see about on-line support for your problem or someone close to you. 

We should all check our own medication stockpile and rid ourselves of opiates. If an oral surgeon has prescribed a medication for pain, probably many of those pills remain unlocked in your kitchen. Anyone, even a child, could take these dangerous drugs. There are “Drug Take Back Locations” in Oneida County. Call CFLR, Inc. at 315-733-1709 or your local pharmacy.Thecurrent recommendation for self-disposal is this: take the pills out of the vial, put them in a small plastic bag with something unattractive like coffee grounds, fasten the bag, and put it in your garbage. 

If you are caring for a disabled or elderly person, make sure their home is also free of leftover or accessible vials of opioids. If you are caring for a hospice patient who passes away, make sure those drugs are immediately discarded. 

Fentanyl patches are particularly dangerous in the home. They may fall on the floor or be picked off a table by a child. Putting this in the mouth may actually be fatal.

So, the first step to helping keep all of us safe from opioids is to get them out of our own homes. The next step is to decrease or eliminate any opioid use in your family, if you can. Then if these are not issues for you, consider helping support the growing movement to provide counseling and rehab to people in our community who are addicted.