By Rebecca Metcalf
Every day, 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose. You read that correctly, every DAY. According to the CDC, the Opioid Epidemic can be outlined in three distinct waves.
The first wave began with increased prescribing of opioids in the 90s, with overdose deaths involving prescription opioids (natural and semi-synthetic opioids and methadone) increasing since at least 1999.
The second wave began in 2010, with rapid increases in overdose deaths involving heroin.
Today, we are in the third wave, which began in 2013, with significant increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, particularly those involving illicitly-manufactured fentanyl (IMF). The IMF market continues to change, and IMF can be found in combination with heroin, counterfeit pills and cocaine.
Studies show that fentanyl can shut down breathing in less than a minute. Unlike heroin that comes from the poppy plant, fentanyl is s a synthetic combination of chemicals, often produced in China and packaged in Mexico, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Because fentanyl can be 50 times more powerful than heroin, smaller amounts translate to bigger profits and more deaths.
According to Michigan.gov, opioid overdoses are killing nearly 47,000 per year. It is described as one of the greatest public health crises of our lifetime.
An Opioid Epidemic is defined as widespread overuse and misuse of opioid drugs. Opioids are a diverse class of moderately strong painkillers. This epidemic has significant medical, social and economic consequences, including overdose deaths. I interviewed Client Service Coordinator Yashica Ellis, at Wellness Services in Flint, Mich., to learn more about how we can fight the Opioid Epidemic.
Ellis runs a syringe service program. The Syringe Treatment Exchange Program runs every Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Wellness Services. Ellis provides free harm-reduction supplies to the community as well as Naloxone and Narcan kits that prevent overdose deaths. These kits are opioid antagonists used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose. Ellis explained, “We link our clients through this program to critical life-saving resources when they are ready, and provide other resources and guidance as we help them along the continuum of care.”
Clients at Wellness Services are provided educational training on how to successfully administer the injectable intramuscular Naloxone or the intranasal spray Narcan. Ellis clarified, “They learn how this stops the overdose, provide rescue breathing and what the next steps should be once the person is revived. Clients are also instructed on the Good Samaritan laws in place to protect them from any legal ramifications of saving someone.” Clients get a kit with training, and refills are free.
At a local level, town halls are being held to address the Opioid Epidemic. Also, grants are being written. For example, the Michigan Health Endowment Fund awarded the Greater Flint Health Coalition (GFHC) a two-year $499,950 grant to address the Opioid Epidemic. The city of Flint filed a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers on Feb. 20, 2019. Hopefully, other cities will choose to follow suit.
On Dec. 10, 2019, MSU Today explained that the areas that need treatment most are low-income areas; and these areas should be a priority for building treatment centers. They also describe the importance of treating all ages, including the young, where treatment has declined as of late. Needless to say, a variety of actions are taking place on multiple fronts.
When asked what advice she had for those struggling with opioid addiction, Ellis responded, “Take it one day at a time, and be kind to yourself. With the right treatment and support, recovery is possible. Relapse is a part of that journey, not the final destination. Treatment shouldn’t be one-sided. It should address more than the person’s drug use.”
As for the family and friends of those affected by the Opioid Epidemic, Ellis says to do your research. “Watch documentaries about the Opioid Epidemic like “Warning! This Drug May Kill You.” Be supportive and it may be useful to join a support group yourself,” she said. She added that drug addiction is difficult on the friends and family of someone struggling to maintain sobriety. She feels it is important to avoid focusing on negative behaviors, because it won’t help the addict move forward.
For more information on how you can help, please access the following resources:
Wellness Services, Inc.
311 E. Court St.
Flint, MI 48502
1-800-662-HELP (4357) (24/7 hotline to provide treatment referrals)