Opioid abuse demands call for action

One would think that getting a tooth pulled would hurt.

It didn’t. At least, in my case, when I recently had to get a molar yanked out because my dentist said it would have taken heroic measures to save it and might not have lasted very long, anyway.

So, off to the oral surgeon for what is described as “extraction” of tooth number 18. It was quick. A few shots of novacaine, a few tugs on the tooth, and boom. Done. Thanks for stopping by.

I expected pain later, but really there was none. It might have had something to do with the acetaminnophen with codeine that was prescribed to ease that pain, along with amoxicillin to prevent infection.

Now, codeine is an opiod pain medication. I took it sparingly. Didn’t even use all of the prescription since I’m one of those reluctant to take too many pills. I’ve been fortunate to be primarily healthy most of my life, and I suppose it has something to do with all those miles I run.

But many people do face daily battles, physically, mentally, emotionally. And sometimes, that can lead to drugs in search of relief from the pain. Taken correctly and following what a doctor says, prescription opiods can make a difference for the better.

Taken incorrectly, it can lead to problems. Unfortunately, for many, that has happened. The Aloha State, the land of beaches and sunshine, ranks 43rd in the nation in drug overdose deaths. The rank has remained steady over the past six years, even though drug overdose rates continue to rise across the nation.

Over the past decade, drug overdose deaths in Hawaii increased by 83 percent — more than double the national average — according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Drug overdose remains the leading form of injury-related deaths for Hawaii residents. It currently accounts for 23 percent of all fatal injuries, according to the Hawaii Department of Health’s Emergency Medical Services and Injury Prevention System Branch.

The rates include deaths from prescription opioids, and regular use of prescribed opioids can lead to dependence. This has resulted in a national epidemic of overdose incidents and deaths.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States.

The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of 10) involve an opioid. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. Ninety-one Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

“We now know that overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths,” according to CDC. “Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report. Deaths from prescription opioids — drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone — have more than quadrupled since 1999.”

To prevent Hawaii from experiencing the same rate of opioid-related overdoses and deaths as other states, Gov. David Ige is taking an aggressive approach to coordinate prevention efforts statewide.

“This is a challenge that requires the best minds working together in our islands,” Ige said in a press release. “We can stem the tide by taking action now and working collaboratively across multiple state agencies to prevent harmand save the lives of Hawaii’s people.”

State departments have been working on this issue for well over a year, and Ige recently announced the official start of this coordinated initiative. The governor joined heads of agencies, departments and key partners from across Hawaii to kick off this coordinated opioid abuse initiative.

Much has already been achieved in Hawaii so far, including:

w Expanded access to drugs that can prevent opioid-overdoses (known as “opioid antagonists”) to health careprofessionals, harm reduction organizations, pharmacists, all first responders and any person positioned to prevent an opioid-related drug overdose mortality. Opioid antagonists are prescription medications that help to reverse the toxic effects of opioid over-medication and overdose. Laboratory research and clinical trials have also shown that opioid antagonists enhance the pain-killing capabilities of opioids, such as morphine andoxycodone.

w The passing of key legislation (Act 218) to reduce inappropriate prescribing of opioids.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard recently spoke on the House floor to condemn drug manufacturers that deceptively market opioids, lying about the drugs’ addictive nature, and fueling a deadly drug epidemic ravaging communities in Hawaii and across the Nation

Gabbard has cosponsored legislation like the STO.

POD Act (H.R.664) to help state and local governments raise awareness of the dangers of opioids like fentanyl, oxycodone and heroin expand educational efforts to prevent opiate abuse and promote treatment and prevention.

She also voted to pass a series of bipartisan measures in the 114th Congress to address some of the widespread problems that have caused and perpetuated the national opioid crisis, including the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (S.524) signed into law in July 2016, and has continued to call for drug companies perpetuating the crisis to be held accountable.

“In my home state of Hawaii, hospitalizations and emergency room visits for opioid-related conditions have more than doubled in the last decade,” she said. “More people are now dying from overdoses than motor vehicle accidents. This opioid epidemic is killing 91 Americans all across this country every single day.”

Gabbard believes some drug manufacturers use what she called “shady marketing tactics, lies, and false advertising that helped them get rich at the expense of the American people.”

She said lives have been ruined as a result.

“This is absolutely unacceptable. We can’t just keep wringing our hands about the opioid crisis without actually tackling the cause of it.”

The question is, will we?

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Bill Buley is editor-in-chief of The Garden Island. He can be reached at bbuley@thegardenisland.com

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