It is no secret that every state across the country has been hit hard by the opiate overdose epidemic, and Texas is no exception. In an effort to address the problem in North Texas specifically, a healthcare forum was convened last month at the TCU Neeley School of Business and TCU & UNT Health Science Center School of Medicine. It was here that experts discussed different methods of addressing the problem proactively in a session called “The Opioid Crisis: Getting to the Bottom Line – Economic and Personal Costs for North Texas.”
Panel members focused on some of the methods that have been proven to be effective in Texas and beyond, including:
- Increased use of naloxone among first responders
- Increased access to naloxone for family members of people living with addiction
- Increased use of a statewide prescription drug monitoring service
- Responsible prescribing practices
Glenn Hardesty was on the panel, an emergency medical physician at Texas Health Resources as well as an expert on the opioid crisis in North Texas. Said Hardesty: “Responsible prescribing is one of the cornerstones of addressing the issue. We need to find that balance where, hey, we pushed out all these drugs to treat the pain, but realizing that maybe it’s not always physical pain that we’re treating.”
Prevention of New Addictions
Too many of the people who lose their lives to opiate addiction begin their use of opiate drugs in the doctor’s office. Whether they were prescribed a short-term prescription of painkillers to manage pain caused by an injury or received painkillers as a medical means of managing chronic pain, the end result can be an addiction to the drug.
A number of changes in Texas can help to minimize the number of prescriptions that launch new addictions, including:
- Better education of primary care physicians who may not be aware of the potential devastation caused by painkiller prescription
- Time spent with new patients treated with painkillers to define the risks
- Starting with as low a dose of painkillers as possible or no painkillers at all
- Emphasizing holistic pain management methods that can replace the use of painkillers
Identifying Current Addiction Disorders
For those who are already living with an active addiction to opiates, a change in initial prescription practice comes too late to be helpful. Instead, Texas physicians and other social service professionals can help people in crisis with:
- Regular medical monitoring and assessment before painkillers are refilled
- Increased use of statewide prescription painkiller monitoring databases
- Screening tools used by primary care physicians, specialists, social workers, and emergency medical professionals to identify those who are living with addiction and/or diverting pills to the black market
- Protocol for law enforcement officers who encounter people living with addiction in the course of performing their duties that emphasizes resources over punishment
Triage in Crisis
Even with the best prevention efforts and working to identify those who are living with addiction, the worst can happen when addiction continues. Any use of an opiate drug can result in an opiate overdose, for the uninitiated and the long-time user alike. In the case of opiate overdose, the best response is immediate application of naloxone. It is easy enough to administer in its nasal spray version that almost everyone should be able to help someone in crisis. This means that distributing the drug for use liberally among first responders, families with loved ones in addiction, and others who regularly come into contact with people experiencing an overdose should be a priority across Texas.
From Triage to Treatment
Once an individual living with active addiction has been identified or once someone has been saved from an opiate overdose, the next step is to connect them with services that will help them to learn how to save their own life in the future. Taking drugs off the street, incarcerating drug traffickers and drug dealers, or building a wall – none of this will cause the personal change that is necessary to build a strong new life in recovery. That happens with medical and therapeutic intervention, with personalized treatment, oversight and accountability, and a strong community of likeminded individuals all working together to support each other in living positive and healthy lives.
What do you think Texas needs to fight the opiate crisis most effectively? What does your loved one need from you to take a step closer to recovery?