The TLDR: Addressing Seattle's opioid epidemic

November 14, 2016
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Opioid abuse is a hot topic right now. Everyone from Jon Oliver to Frontline has been covering the increasing trend this year. Even Macklemore released a new song about prescription drug abuse.

The topic is seemingly everywhere.

Still, opioid abuse is often misunderstood and the dangers often underestimated. Some parents even say, “Sure it’s bad, but at least my kid isn’t smoking weed. How can prescription drugs be that dangerous?”

It might be time to start taking a different approach to the way we view prescription drugs, specifically opioids, and their effects.

Let’s break it down.

How bad is opioid abuse here in Seattle?

Pretty bad.

Heroin usage in Seattle alone increased 58 percent just two years ago. Let’s put it this way - opioid overdoses became the #1 cause of accidental death in Washington state this year…surpassing fatal car accidents. This suggests that the average person in Washington is more likely to die from using a prescription drug than in a car crash.

Scary.

Back it up. You just said heroin. I thought we were talking about opioids?

We are. There are many drugs considered to be “opioids,” but you might commonly know them as hydrocodone, oxycodone and the illegally manufactured drugs fentanyl and, you guessed it, heroin.

Opioids, including heroin, work by attaching themselves to your “Opioid Receptors” that live in your brain, spine, and internal organs, which inhibits your perception of pain. That feeling from taking prescription drugs becomes addictive, and patients can often seek stronger dosages and transition to harder drugs.

So you are saying I shouldn’t use any opioids? What if I’m in pain?

Opioids are often prescribed for pain management after surgeries and dental work, among other reasons.

Despite their medical use, it is very easy to become dependent or addicted to opioids. People who end up abusing often turn from taking pills to snorting or even injecting the drug. While reducing pain reception (their intended use), opioids also slow respiration and when there is too much in the body, people can lose consciousness and stop breathing, which (anatomy lesson) can cause death.

OK, so what are we doing about it?

King County assembled a task force, which put out a report that gave a few suggestions to the county and city councils, including recommending safe injection sites where people suffering from addiction could gain access to clean needles, medical supervision, and other resources that would help them get clean. These sites would be the first of their kind in the United States, but safe injection sites still haven’t been approved by the authorities. The report was published in September 2016

Even police are changing the ways they approach heroin abuse with a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program that connects people suffering from addiction to drug counselors rather than sending them to jail.

There’s a lot to be done, but it’s a start. Here at The End, we are hoping to do our part as well.

How do you spot opioid abuse?

Most of the initiatives out there to combat the epidemic are focused on heroin, but it’s important to know the signs of prescription drug abuse so the problem can be addressed before it becomes more damaging.

We at The End are part of a nationwide initiative to help people break out of opioid abuse. We have a resource guide for how you can help your friends who are in need.

Learn about how you can be prepared to deal with abuse when you see it.

The TL;DR
Opioids are often mismanaged, underestimated, and one of the roots of Seattle’s heroin epidemic. There are initiatives under way to start addressing the problem, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

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