The killer called opioids

There is a killer among us. Most frightening about that fact, is the killer cannot be stopped by normal law enforcement means. This killer can only be stopped by us, individually and collectively, as we ward off a growing problem with opioid use, abuse and the rising number of unintentional overdoses it often leads to each year.

We can bury our head in the sand and pretend the problem doesn’t exist in our community, our neighborhood or even in our home, but that will not make the problem go away nor help turn the murderous tide that is dragging so many people under.

Pay close attention to the facts:

• In 2015, right here in Sampson County, there were 47 unintentional medication or drug poisoning deaths;
• In 2015, again here in Sampson, there were 40 prescription opioid poisoning deaths;
• In 2016, 72 people were treated locally for an unintentional opioid overdose, an increase over the 57 patients in 2015;
• Of the 20.5 million Americans 12 or older that had a substance use disorder in 2015, 2 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers and 591,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin;
• Drug overdoses now surpass automobile accidents as the leading cause of injury-related deaths for Americans between the ages of 25 and 64;
• Abuse of prescription painkillers often leads to heroin abuse;
• Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers; and
• In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills.

This isn’t a problem, it’s an epidemic, and it is one we need to open our eyes to now before more of our family, friends, neighbors and community members are caught in its lethal snare.

Opioids include the illicit drug heroin as well as elicit prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others. They are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brain and nervous system to produce pleasurable effects and relieve pain. Addiction to them is a primary, chronic and relapsing brain disease characterized by an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors, according to The American Society of Addiction Medicine.

While it is hard to say why some people are more easily susceptible to drug addiction than others, it is important to realize that anyone given pain medicine for legitimate problems, such as recovery from surgery, can find themselves becoming dependent upon it quickly if not monitored closely.

Sadly, the addiction causes a Domino effect that destroys individuals, families and impacts, perhaps, most of all, children innocently caught in a tangled web of drug abuse.

We must accept that there is a problem, acknowledge that it is a community problem and then work together as a community to help resolve it, first understanding why a person becomes addicted rather than judging them for being an addict. That is, perhaps, the most difficult step.

Until we walk in another’s shoes, it is hard to imagine how someone becomes an addict. But talk to someone who’s been there and it becomes easier to comprehend.

Over the course of the next few weeks, The Sampson Independent will feature a series of articles we hope will drive home the point that Sampson County has an opioid addiction problem. We’ll feature personal testimonies from those who’ve been there, we’ll share resources and we’ll provide this community’s awareness efforts. It is our attempt to wake us up to the problem, inspire us to be a part of the solution and, hopefully, to help someone who is already abusing meds to stop before it’s too late.

A killer is among us, but together, we can stop it before it takes yet another victim.