U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is imploring his colleagues not to take up any bills that could undo recent progress in fighting the nation’s growing opioid problem. Similar concerns are found in northwest Florida.
Opioid-related deaths in 2015, the latest available numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outnumbered those from gun homicides and vehicle crashes combined; and more than died from HIV/AIDS at its peak in the mid-1990s.
Speaking on the Senate Floor last month, Nelson said he and others believe there’s a nationwide epidemic of overdose deaths involving heroin and other opioids.
“In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdose,” Nelson told colleagues. “That’s 15 percent more people than had died just the previous year.”
Nearly two-thirds of the deaths were linked to opioids such as Percocet, OxyContin, heroin, and fentanyl.
Florida, says Nelson, is right there in that national trend.
“What Florida saw between 2014 and 2015, was a 22.7 percent increase; in that year, Florida suffered over 2,000 deaths from opioid overdose,” said Nelson.
According to government figures, there are more drug overdose deaths now than any other period in US history. Even more than past epidemics involving heroin, crack cocaine, and most recently methamphetamine.
“Opioid is a medication that interacts with the brain, and allow you to not feel pain; your body still manifests pain but you don’t feel it,” says Justin Perry, a counselor at the Lakeview Center rehab facility that serves northwest Florida.
If used properly, opioids are valuable and effective treatments. But Perry says there is a lot of potential for abuse and the number of opioid cases has risen in the past few years.
“Maybe that six-hour [dosage] window, you get to four hours and feel a little bit of pain, so you take that second one,” Perry says. “And because it works, it also gives you a little bit of euphoria, which leads to using it a little bit more frequently.”
Addiction is characterized by an individual’s pathological pursuit of reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Other signs of possible opioid abuse can be:
- Not following through on obligations
- Lying more frequently
- Money goes missing from a purse or wallet; people resort to stealing or other criminal activity to obtain the medication
- Frequent bathroom visits
- Staying up all night then sleeping throughout the day, and maybe having some sweats then you wake up.
Lakeview and other facilities offer a number of treatment programs, which Perry says are customized to the individual. Residential programs can last for up to 60 days. Patient screening can help determine the best avenue.
Over the past decade, mental health and substance abuse have been treated at the same time, when they weren’t before. Spirituality has also been included in many programs. When the client is released, their aftercare can include psychiatric services.
Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying "love the sinner but hate the sin.” In the battle against opioid abuse, Lakeview’s Justin Perry says that could translate into what many law enforcement agencies now practice – separating the drug abuser from the drug crime.
“They’ve done a lot of work not only to get people off the streets into detox centers, but they’ve also stopped taking people to jail for straight addiction,” said Perry.
While he believes there remains a need for opioids to manage pain, Lakeview’s Justin Perry says doctors are beginning to focus on alternatives.
“More natural medicines, more therapy services, physical therapies,” said Perry. “The younger guy who has a toothache and goes to the emergency room probably doesn’t need a shot of Dilaudid. The medical offices play a role in it. I think there’s a big push in the community, and we recognize there is a significant problem, and we’re all trying.”