Although the death of Prince has shocked our nation, it really should come as no surprise that the opioid epidemic has claimed yet another person far before his time. Once again, our nation has had to come face to face with the startling realization that no one is immune from this deadly disease.
In fact, according to a January 2016 report from the CDC, since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose involving opioids. In 2014, an estimated 2.1 million people had a prescription opioid related disorder and an estimated 467,000 people were addicted to heroin in the United States.
The reasons for this epidemic are complex – pharmaceutical companies enticing consumers to believe that they need some type of medication to cure every ailment known to man, policy changes that demand that doctors alleviate a patient’s pain in order to be reimbursed for services that went unregulated, Mexican drug cartels that seized upon the opportunity to peddle dirt cheap heroin for people who could no longer access prescription medicines, medication that has become so expensive that families feel the need to save every last pill in case “someone needs it” and a culture that believes that only “those” kind of people can become an addict have all contributed to this out of control epidemic, that once again, was highlighted by the death of Prince.
But Prince hasn’t been the first and only victim of an overdose death. There have been many before him – some famous and many who are not. In fact, right here in Stark County, there were 75 unintentional overdose deaths in 2015 alone – and the number has climbed even higher for 2016. It has climbed so high that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came to Ohio to do a special report about it. They found that Stark County is considered a “high burden” area for opiate related deaths and especially deaths related to fentanyl – a powerful synthetic opiate that in some versions is 7,000 times more potent than heroin. Who is at risk the most? White males, age 35 or younger, with some education who have abstained from substance use because of being in a controlled environment. That controlled environment could be a hospital, treatment center, jail or any other facility where access to opiates was restricted.
There is no one way to solve this problem. This is a different war on drugs. This is a war that demands that we change the way we think, feel, believe and act about drugs. This is a war that demands that we do things so dramatically different than we have ever done before if we are to come through the other end of this. We are challenged to think about “those” people who are struggling or who have lost their battle to addiction differently. No longer can we say it doesn’t happen in my neighborhood because it is happening in EVERY neighborhood. No longer can we assume that those who use opiates are “just criminals” when the research consistently tells us that this is a brain disease and not a moral failing. No longer can we blame the drug dependent person because they made the choice to do drugs, when we know that the majority of people addicted to opiates and heroin now started with a prescription for a legitimate illness in the past. No longer can people stay in their houses feeling secure that these drugs won’t hurt them when over half the people in this country know someone who is addicted to opiates.
There are proven prevention strategies that can be embedded in schools, communities and families. There are harm reduction strategies that include Naloxone kits that can be used to reverse an overdose and prevent a death. There are law enforcement strategies that can used to hold people accountable while ensuring that people who really need help get the treatment and support they need. There is support for families and friends who have lost a loved one to this epidemic.
The only way we are going to win this war is if we all come together with the common purpose of making our community healthy once again. No matter what your opinions or beliefs, no matter what your profession or occupation, no matter your age, gender, race or cultural background, there is a place for you at the table. We have that table right here at Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery. The Opiate Task Force of Stark County meets on the third Friday of every month from 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. to share information, connect people to the right places and find solutions. Please join us!
Learn more about the Opiate Task Force of Stark County »