Editorials

Let’s face it, opioid abuse is here, too

A forensic chemist prepares a sample of the drug "gray death" to be weighed at the crime lab of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations in Decatur, Ga., on Thursday, May 4, 2017. The new and dangerous opioid combo underscores the ever-changing nature of the U.S. addictions epidemic. Investigators who nicknamed the mixture have detected it or recorded overdoses blamed on it in Alabama, Georgia and Ohio.
A forensic chemist prepares a sample of the drug "gray death" to be weighed at the crime lab of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations in Decatur, Ga., on Thursday, May 4, 2017. The new and dangerous opioid combo underscores the ever-changing nature of the U.S. addictions epidemic. Investigators who nicknamed the mixture have detected it or recorded overdoses blamed on it in Alabama, Georgia and Ohio. AP

We think of it happening somewhere else. We look at the statistics of opioid abuse and push them aside because it couldn’t be happening here. We see that the estimates of opioid addiction deaths that could hit 59,000 to 65,000 for 2016, according to data compiled by The New York Times, 19 percent over 2015, the largest jump ever recorded and we don’t realize that people in our community are part of those numbers. And 2017 is looking to be worse. Here’s a daunting statistic gathered from the data, “drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50.” Car accidents? No. HIV/AIDS? Not even at its peak in the mid-1990s.

And then it lands on our doorstep. Four deaths reported at the Medical Center, the Houston Healthcare emergency room and Coliseum Medical Centers and more than 20 suspected drug-related illnesses in the space of three days from a street drug disguised to look like Percocet, a prescription drug that is a combined opioid/non-opioid pain reliever. This imitation, however, is lethal. Bibb County Sheriff David Davis labeled it “poison.”

Opioid addiction is a complex problem that isn’t hiding in the back corners of ghetto streets anymore but has invaded every area of America from radio talk show giant Rush Limbaugh who was hooked on OxyContin to Prince who died of an overdose of fentanyl. On the streets of our cities, large and small, heroin is being replaced by fentanyls sold as heroin. Traffickers also use the compound to make imitation opioid drugs which may be the case in this latest rash of Middle Georgia overdoses. The Times story also revealed that fentanyls have been found in cocaine.

One of the fentanyl analogues is a large animal tranquilizer, carfentanil, that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl. An amount as small as a poppy seed can cause death. According to a Fox 5 report last year, Deneen Kilcrease, manager of the GBI chemistry section, speaking of carfentanil said, “It’s probably the scariest (drug) I’ve seen in my 20 years here.”

There is an overdose reversal drug, Narcan, but there is little relief in that knowledge. Doyle Burke, the chief investigator for the Warren County (Ohio) coroner’s office told The New York Times that he had seen EMS crews hit an overdose victim with 12, 13, 14 hits of Narcan with no effect. Burke likened a shot of Narcan to a “squirt gun in a house fire.”

In Middle Georgia, while Narcan is available without a prescription, according to a report by this newspaper, only Graves Pharmacy, inside The Medical Center, Navicent Health, had the drug. So what to do?

One of the fentanyl analogues is a large animal tranquilizer, carfentanil, that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

People consume opioids for a variety of reasons. Some are looking for a high while others are in chronic pain from illnesses or injuries. Many have exhausted legal means of getting their drugs and have turned to street vendors where the mark up can be astounding. One of the people interviewed by this newspaper who bought fake Percocet and lived to tell about it, said they paid $7 a pill, where pharmacy prices are generally, depending on the dosage, $5 less.

Drug addiction is real and impacts families of all income brackets. While it’s difficult to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, making sure they know there are killer drugs on the street is one way to keep them alive so that at some point they might seek the help they so desperately need. Unfortunately, too many times, that realization comes too late.

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