There is an opioid crisis in Washington state. In fact, the crisis is nationwide, but here in Washington, according to preliminary data, 694 people died of opioid-related deaths in 2016. These are preventable deaths.
Opioid medications are an important option for clinicians treating short-term pain after trauma or terminal illnesses. But it is important to understand that long-term use of opioids can lead to tolerance, dependence and addiction. These are powerful medications found in prescriptions to help manage pain — as well as in street-drugs like heroin.
Opioids have been talked about a lot in the news, and the opioid crisis is a complicated one. To solve it, we need people and approaches from many sectors in society to address its many aspects. The solution must include both resources and professionals from a variety of fields, including law enforcement, the medical community, behavioral health professionals, pain and addiction specialists, and people working on overdose prevention strategies.
For those in the public health and medical community, there is currently a four-pronged approach to prevention, management and treatment of opioid misuse, addiction and overdose.
The first is the Prescription Monitoring Program that tracks all Washington state prescriptions for controlled substances. This has been remarkably effective in decreasing diversion of the drugs.
The second, Medication Assisted Therapy, is the use of targeted medications, together with other counseling or behavioral therapies, to help those already in crisis.
The last two are harm reduction strategies: the syringe exchange program and distributing the opioid antidote Naloxone to Syringe Exchange Program clients, friends and family; to first responders; and to patients with high-dose opioid prescriptions. Thurston County has The Syringe Exchange Program and has begun to distribute naloxone to first responders.
While opioids can be safely and effectively used to reduce pain, they must be used with caution and care. There are resources in our community to help prevent misuse, and to help those struggling with addiction to these powerful drugs. For more information on these resources, including support for families or crisis and treatment information, visit www.stopoverdose.org.
If you, or a family member are being prescribed an opioid, there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood of dangerous side effects, and to reduce the chances of these powerful drugs getting into the wrong hands.
- Talk to you doctor. If you aren’t sure whether or not your prescription is an opioid, ask.
- If you take other medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist if it is safe to also take an opioid.
- Take your medication as directed. If your prescription is not controlling your pain, talk to your doctor.
- Don’t leave opioids out where they can be seen. Store them in a locked drawer, cabinet, or tool/tackle/lock box. Hide the key in a different location.
- Always dispose of your medications properly. Use free Medicine Take Back service locations to drop off meds you no longer need. Locations are listed at www.takebackyourmeds.org
One more thing to keep in mind when thinking about opioids is preparedness.
Naloxone is a prescription medication that can temporarily stop opioid overdose. In Washington, anyone who might have, or who might be present for, an opioid overdose can have and administer Naloxone. Keep in mind: It will only help in the case of an overdose of opioids. But it is not addictive, and is safe and easy to use. It’s available from health care providers, but also at county needle exchanges for those who already may be struggling with addiction.
Regardless of who you are, and what role you have in helping our community deal with the opioid crisis, we can all do our part to help keep one another safe and healthy by sharing what we know.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.