Awareness could save a life

Published 4:08 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2016

It happens all the time: an injury leads to prescription of pain pills; chronic pain leads to reliance on those pills in order to make it through the day. Increased tolerance leads to more pills needed; more pain pills requested from doctors leads to a patient being “red-flagged.” An inability to get pills through doctors leads to getting them from other sources: a friend, a family member, a medicine chest in someone else’s home or purchased illegally from someone off the street. The cost per pill is high, and heroin, also an opioid, is cheaper.

It’s a scenario that plays over and over again, across the country, the state and the county. This is not a problem that exists somewhere else. It’s right here. The spike in overdoses from heroin and prescription pain pills has increased so much in recent years that the problem is now considered a public health epidemic.

This week is national opioid awareness week and people should be aware of how opioids can destroy a life. They are very addictive, simply because they decrease pain and increase a person’s feelings of relaxation and happiness. Along with those euphoric feelings, however, is the addiction: stopping their use can cause withdrawal, which comes with restlessness, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea, vomiting, insomnia, cold flashes and spasmatic movement of the extremities. Extended use can cause sleepiness and constipation, and reduces a person’s ability to breathe, which is what a large dose of heroin or prescription pain pills will do to a body: make breathing stop altogether. That’s how someone dies of an overdose.

Abuse is everywhere. Take the town of Huntington, West Virginia, a town of about 50,000 people. One Monday in August, calls started pouring in to 911. At the first scene, first responders found seven victims of overdose; five hours later, 26 overdose victims had been hospitalized from a bad batch of heroin. Only two people died that day, thanks to naxolone, an opioid antidote that all Huntington first responders carry with them. While West Virginia has the nation’s highest overdose rate — 35 deaths per 100,000 people — Huntingdon has three times that rate, and overdoses are the third-leading cause of death in the college town.

Education is key in preventing the type of situation that exists in Huntingdon. Take the time this week to read up on this national epidemic and learn the signs of addiction. Take another few minutes to look through the medicine chest and remove any out-of-date or unused prescription pain medications — they are a temptation to anyone with an addiction. Take a drive downtown to the sheriff’s office and drop off those pain meds in the receptacle in the front lobby, there just for that purpose.

And take the time to observe national opioid awareness week with an increased awareness of the issue. It could save a life.