Letter: Opiate Abuse is an Epidemic

We have an opiate abuse epidemic on our hands in the commonwealth. According to Governor Patrick 140 lives have been taken by heroin since January, not counting prescription narcotic overdoses. Fatal opiate overdoses are on the rise in the U.S. claiming more lives than automobile accidents! Nearly all of us know someone with this addiction. As a healthcare provider and someone who has lost two loved ones to overdose, I am writing to make the public aware of dangers regarding prescription narcotics. Four out of five people who start using heroin begin their addiction with legal pain prescriptions.

According to Up To Date, a reputable medical resource, during the 1990s there became a greater concern to improve pain management. This concern was adopted by pharmaceutical profit seeking agencies and soon opiate use exploded. Fortunately, since then prescribing has become mo! re rigid and providers should now be screening patients for addiction potential, require pain management contracts, ask for urine toxicology screens, and include family members in the pain management plan. It is important for those considering prescription narcotics for non-cancer pain to be aware these meds do not go without risk and are designed for short term use. It is also necessary to use other therapies in conjunction with narcotics to achieve the pain management goal as it is an unrealistic expectation to become pain free with narcotics alone. At all times prescription opioids should be locked away in order to prevent illegal distribution and if not in use should be disposed of properly. As a national initiative to promote proper disposal of meds prone to abuse “National Prescription Take Back Day” is on 4/26/14. For a list of Take back day sites in your area please visit http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/index.html.

Fortunately, policy is impro! ving. On 3/27, Governor Patrick declared a public health emergency allotting 20 million dollars to improve drug rehab programs. In addition he has required Narcan, an opioid antagonist drug to be carried by first responders. Narcan has also been made available by prescription to family and friends who fear a loved one might overdose. Lastly, there is an endless supply of helpful resources on the web available to those affected by the epidemic. One website www.Learn2Cope.org is a Massachusetts based support group for anyone dealing with narcotic abuse. I encourage all of us to stay active in policy reform until this epidemic comes to an end.

Danelle DeBye R.N., B.S.N, is a Graduate Student, Family Nurse Practitioner at UMass-Lowell

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