This country is facing a very serious epidemic. It’s not under the radar, but it’s also not talked about like it should be. With the political climate these days and the “me first” lifestyle everyone seems to want to live it’s no wonder that serious issues like this get ignored. If not completely ignored then at least put on the back burner. The opioid issue in this country is out of control. Honestly, I’m not sure it can be stopped.
I don’t have any suggestions for what can be done to stop it. I shouldn’t say I don’t have any suggestions because everyone has an opinion, especially people who write opinion blogs. I just don’t have any suggestions that come with hard research and successful results. This post isn’t even about what can be done to slow down the opioid epidemic. I know, here I go again keeping you in suspense because these posts are so riveting. That being said, I’m going to write this either way, it was your choice to click on it.
I want to get this out of the way quickly because it’s the only suggestion I have so let’s just kill it and move on. I think awareness is the only way at this point. Showing kids in junior high and throughout high school the horrifying before and after pictures of those who get helplessly addicted to opioids. Showing them the unfortunate path of where it starts and where it ends up 99% of the time. Telling them how a lot of people who get addicted didn’t go through a “gateway drug” like the evil marijuana that is such a hot topic. If it wasn’t drinking to weed to cocaine to meth then what was it? Because that’s the way gateway drugs work! Sorry folks, too many people forget to take that path and go straight to the doctor. That’s where a lot of this starts.
Do we really need to start talking about this in junior high? Hell yes we do. I’ve volunteered with junior high kids for years and I will tell you that they aren’t acting like kids. They know what goes on in this world. They see everything the internet has to offer. They talk like adults, think like a lot of immature adults, and aren’t really afraid of anything. So when we sit down and talk to them like they’re children, or we don’t talk to them at all because they’re just kids and don’t think about this stuff, then you’ve already put those young men and women in jeopardy. Because whatever you feel like they’re not thinking about they’ve not only thought about it, but tried half of it.
According to a U of Michigan study 1 in 20 young adults use opioids for too long after common surgeries (https://labblog.uofmhealth.org/rounds/what-these-10-studies-taught-us-about-opioid-addiction-2017). With the growing number of student athletes and the more focused parents and students seem to be with sports, the painkillers find their way in to kids’ hands at younger and younger ages. Thus creating the risk for addiction to be far greater. These kids have to be told when to stop taking these pills and then not allowed access to them. Doctors need to stop allowing prescriptions of far too many of these pills to kids and adults alike. In that same study U-M found that hysterectomy recipients receive about 40 hydrocodone pills after the procedure even though the average patient only uses about 18 pills. Why are they prescribing so many? What happens to those leftover pills? Well, maybe later in the year that patient has a little back pain and remembers the extra pills and takes one. Later there’s something else and she takes more pills. Next thing you know that person is relying on the pills to get them through minor pains they normally would have ignored.
Anyway, you get the gist, and the rabbit hole only gets deeper. So what am I whining about this time? I was driving to brunch with my wife just outside of Nashville and saw a billboard. I normally ignore billboards but I slowed down for this one, and then I drove by it again a little later on purpose. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and my initial reaction was anger. I was upset with the message, the idea, the audacity of the people who thought the billboard was a good idea. It read: Stop Overdoses Carry Naloxone.
First, I confirmed that Narcan and Naloxone were the same thing. I did that because I genuinely didn’t know. Second, this launched my wife and I in to a pretty deep discussion about what this means. One of the first thoughts that I had was remembering friends who have families talking about how expensive Epi-Pens are but they have to bite the bullet and buy them for the safety of their child. I haven’t seen any Epi-Pen billboards in my area. Yet, I’m supposed to buy opioid overdose kits that can range anywhere from $85 to $200 and carry them with me just in case someone is having an overdose due to their substance abuse.
Then I began to question why this was my responsibility. It sounds harsh, I know. Really, though, I didn’t get addicted to opioids, I didn’t make the decision to not seek help, I didn’t ask for someone to show up in front of me having an overdose. I never volunteered to become an EMT, or police officer, or firefighter. Is this really my civic duty? To protect drug addicts from having an opioid overdose in public? I’m not going to lie, I even questioned if I cared that they die due to an overdose. Does that make me less of a human? I’ve had extended family and friends who were/are drug addicts. I know what it’s like to lose someone I know to drug abuse, but I don’t feel bad for them. I do feel bad for their families, but not for the user who had all the help in the world at their fingertips and refused it all.
Is that the stigma that keeps ringing in my head? If I help this person come back from the dead, basically, aren’t they just going to keep using and find themselves right back in to this situation? People will say that if you save one life and that person changes their life and finds a way to get clean then it’s all worth it. My mindset isn’t to that point yet. I don’t know if I completely agree with that. It’s quite possible that alone makes me a horrible person. I’m not rejecting a conversation about why I should carry it. I just don’t know if that’s the way to help solve this issue. Is our focus in the right place? Should we be spending billions of dollars per year via Federal funding to help the small percentage of people who will actually get clean? Or should we take that money and work on prevention? I’m leaning more toward prevention because I would rather focus on finding the cause and work on educating our young people on how to steer away from addiction in the first place.
I have read well over a dozen articles on this very topic simply by Googling “Why should I carry Narcan?”. There are many arguments in favor of carrying it, there are also many against carrying it. The biggest proponent of carrying it is our very own Surgeon General. It’s the first advisory given by the Surgeon General in 13 years, the last advisory was about drinking during pregnancy. Dr Adams says, “No mother should have to bury their child — and especially not when there’s a life-saving medication that virtually anyone can access,” Adams said. “It is for this reason that I am issuing the first Surgeon General’s Advisory in 13 years.” Yes, virtually anyone can access it as long as you’re wiling to pay for it. As previously mentioned anyone can pay between $85 and $200 for a typical dose. Then I have to know how to administer it. The person stealing to get their next fix isn’t going to steal enough to buy the Narcan to go along with it. I’m expected to pick up the tab for that according to the SG. The SG also says that it’s no different than someone learning CPR or the Heimlich and saving someone’s life and that if more people were encouraged to learn CPR or the Heimlich it wouldn’t be controversial. I don’t agree with him there, either. The Heimlich is used because someone is choking. They’re most often choking by accident. CPR is used for a plethora of reasons, most of which aren’t because someone is abusing drugs.
At this point I have decided that I’m not ready to carry Narcan. I’m not ready to take the training to figure out how to use it properly. I’m not ready to have it in multiple places because I’m often in between two states. I’m not ready to look for the warning signs in complete strangers to monitor if they’re on the verge of an overdose. For all of those out there who do want to carry it I truly admire you. Sadly, I’m not a good enough person to do that, yet. I don’t feel comfortable with it and I don’t fully understand why this is my responsibility. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong, maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. I’m willing to admit that. I just can’t figure it out in my own head.