Examining an epidemic: Communities struggling to combat devastating effects of opioid addiction

 

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We’re increasingly addicted and dying. And the signs are all over our communities.

The clearest sign, however, is a 275 percent increase in the number of people who died of overdoses of opioids this past year compared to 2016.

The 15 people who died of overdoses involving opioids in 2017 ranged in age from 21 to 55 and included 12 men and three women.

In comparison, there were just four drug overdose deaths attributed to opioids in 2016. That’s a number, however, that does not include two babies who were stillborn at birth because of their mothers’ use of illegal drugs.

Opioids, which include legally prescribed pain relievers such as oxycodone and heroin, can lead to dependence and when misused can lead to overdose and even death. Some of those who died obtained their opiates through medications, either prescribed or obtained illegally, said Jackson County Coroner Mike Bobb.

Some of the others died after ingesting a deadly combination of opioids, sedatives, muscle relaxers, painkillers, alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine, Bobb said.

One even died of a new drug called “grey death,” a lethal mix of opioids including heroin, fentanyl and carfentinal, which is an elephant tranquilizer, he said. It receives its name from its concrete powder appearance.

Another of the signs can be found in the babies at Schneck Medical Center born convulsing and vomiting and unable to be soothed by nurses along with the untold number of grandparents forced to raise their grandchildren because the children’s parents can’t or won’t do so or are dead because of an overdose.

Other signs include the ambulance rushing down your street to another overdose victim, the syringe still in her arm, her toddler by her side. This is the third or fourth time first responders have revived her from the grips of death.

The Jackson County Jail is overcrowded, largely due to drug abuse. Officials who work with abused and neglected children in Jackson County need help with a growing caseload, again largely due to drug abuse.

The syringes littering the park where your kids play and the burgeoning petty thefts from homes in your neighborhood. Those thefts and other illegal activities can be tied to drug abuse.Not a choice

There also are tormented families trying to get help for sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, and then having to attend a funeral when those efforts come up short.

And then there are the police officers dreading what they will find when they’re called to a report of another overdose.

This past year, that happened 37 times, and Seymour officers administered 97 doses of naloxone, an overdose reversal drug, to those people, Police Chief Bill Abbott said.

That’s an average of 2.6 doses per person of the medication that can be administered as a nasal mist or intramuscular injection to a person suspected of overdosing on opioids, including heroin, he said.

The medication, also known as Narcan, can slow, stop and even reverse the effects of opioids.

No one and no place is left untouched by the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.

Addiction is a nationwide issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioid medications in 2014. And as many as 1 in 4 people who take prescription opioids long term for pain not related to cancer struggles with addiction.

Nationwide impact opioids

The number of overdoses continues to climb. In 2016, the number of deaths from opioid overdoses was five times higher than in 1999, according to the CDC. More than a half-million people died from drug overdoses from 2000 to 2015. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency rooms across the nation for incorrectly using prescription opioids.

Another concern is the spread of potent synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, that police are finding more and more often. From 2014 to 2015, the number of times police have come across the drug has doubled. The CDC put out an alert about the spread of the drug in 2015, citing it as the reason for significant increases in recent years of opioid deaths.

Officials say the numbers will only continue to climb — that the crisis will get worse before it gets better.

In 2009, 23.5 million people needed treatment for a drug or alcohol abuse problem, but only 2.6 million — 11.2 percent — received it at a specialty facility, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The opioid crisis recently prompted a call from Jackson County Commissioners and Seymour City Council members to join a growing list of counties and cities across the country who are suing opioid makers and distributors.

The CDC estimates the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.

So the question is: What now?

The purpose of this series is to give our readers an intimate look at what this epidemic is doing to and costing our communities and the cruel human toll it’s having on our families and neighbors.

We also plan to explore the barriers in our communities to helping people recover and examine what the community is doing to help. Provide solutions to our communities. Raise awareness. Reduce stigma.

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The Jackson County Health Department recently provided this list of commonly prescribed opioids

  • Codeine (only available in generic form)
  • Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora, Abstral, Onsolis)
  • Hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER)
  • Hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
  • Morphine (Kadian, MS Contin, Morphabond)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Oxaydo)
  • Oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet, Roxicet)
  • Oxycodone and naloxone
  • Oxymorphone

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This past year, 15 people died in Jackson County from opiate overdoses. That’s a 275 percent increase from 2016 when there were just four such deaths.

Jackson County, along with the rest of the country, is in the midst of the worst drug epidemic ever. With alarming frequency, opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl, are killing Americans.

In this yearlong series, we plan to tell the harrowing stories of addicts and families who have lost loved ones.

We also will talk to doctors, addiction specialists, law enforcement officers and others on the front lines of battling a problem that is ruining lives and putting mounting pressures on social service agencies, hospitals, the judicial system and the economy.

Addicted & Dying will explore solutions and a path forward — what treatments and approaches work, what communities can do and how to help people in need.

Our project starts today by exploring two important issues that experts say are crucial in efforts to reverse the abuse.

One is the stigma and social isolation surrounding addiction. The other is looking at addiction as a brain disease, not a moral failing.

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We will look at the science of addiction — why and how people get addicted — and Tuesday, a Seymour couple share the story about their decades of addiction.

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Contact us as 812-523-7051 or [email protected].

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