On November 21st 2016, Governor Terry McAuliffe declared opioid addiction and overdose a public health emergency in the Commonwealth of Virginia. A public health emergency is an event, either natural or manmade, that creates a health risk to the public and the administration feels there is a current threat to Virginia communities and the economy. How does prescription overdose become a national epidemic, and what does that mean for our community?
Opioid pain relievers reduce the pain associated with many conditions, including cancer, arthritis and other degenerative conditions. They are also used to alleviate short-term pain related to injuries, surgery, or dental work. Here is where it is important to note that within the brain, pain associated with physical injury or illness is registered in the same area of the brain as psychological/emotional pain. Strong pain relievers, such as opioid based pain medication, are very effective at numbing both types of pain. With that in mind, it becomes a bit clearer how someone can form a dependence, and then addiction to such a substance.
The true danger with these drugs is not just their potential for addiction, but for deadly overdose. According to the Virginia Medical Examiner, the most impacted age range for overdose death in our area is individuals 45 – 55 years old.
Quite a few substances have the potential to result in overdose death. When looking at this graph, however, it becomes painfully obvious just how often opioid based substances are ending lives. Both prescription opioids and heroin share chemical compounds found in the poppy plant, and when misused prescription opioid pain medicine has been described as a purer form of heroin. But Virginia is not alone in this epidemic; this is a national crisis.
These medications certainly have a place in the medical field when it comes to treating severe pain, but education as to the consequences of prolonged use or intentional misuse need to become a topic of discussion within our society. Our youth are not blind to what is happening. Even if those under the age of 18 in our area are not dying by overdose, adults and older friends and siblings in their lives are. By making simple changes in how prescription medication is treated within the home, we can begin to change the trajectory of this crisis.
Our area is certainly not the hardest hit community in Virginia, but that does not mean we can now breathe a sigh of relief and move on. If you are concerned about keeping the prescription medication within your home safe, please talk to one of our staff about a free Medication Lock Box. After all, where there is pain there will always be individuals seeking a means to relieve it.