Opioid epidemic hits home

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A silent epidemic of opioids has been engulfing the United States for years, but now its impact on Linn County is so pronounced that it’s silent no more. The situation is truly frightful.

Opioids are a class of drugs that are dangerously addictive and include oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, heroin and fentanyl.

From 2008 to 2015, 118 Linn County residents died of opioid overdoses. In 2016, our death toll was 27. In 2015, 78 people visited emergency rooms because of opioid overdose. Each day we lose 91 Americans to opioid overdose. In addition, $78.5 billion is the estimated burden to the U.S. economy.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription opioids are driving an increase in opioid deaths. The amount of prescription opioids sold in our country has quadrupled since 1999, although it has declined in recent years, thanks to our medical community’s action to reduce inappropriate prescription of opioids.

Despite the reduction in prescriptions, the overdose deaths associated with opioids continue to rise largely because of the use of illicit opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl.

Linn County Public Health is working with partners to prevent and control opioid-related overdoses and death. We are working on developing a comprehensive intervention strategy. The Area Substance Abuse Council, our law-enforcement agencies, hospitals and schools are instrumental in reducing addiction and demand for opioids.

Recently, the Cedar Rapids Healthcare Alliance committed $40,000 to assist our community with opioids and emerging public health issues. This funding allows us to deal with the scourge of opioids by getting additional training and resources.

One important strategy for our community is aimed at public health surveillance, data sharing and rapid response. Law enforcement seizure data will help us target high-burden areas to focus prevention efforts, such as linkage to treatment and access to naloxone to reverse overdose. Our collective goal is to utilize all available tools, skills and knowledge at our disposal.

We are promoting programs such as the CDC’s new prescription guidelines, prescribing only three days’ worth of painkillers for acute short-term pain and exploring other medication and treatment for chronic, long-term pain, and the Iowa Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, monitoring patients’ use of controlled substances.

In our community, the Area Substance Abuse Council uses Medication Assistant Treatment, which includes medications such as naloxone, suboxone and vivitrol in combination with therapy to provide a whole-person approach to the treatment of substance use disorder.

Unfortunately, the drugs that are used to treat opioid overdose, or opioid use disorders, are very expensive. We are working with our state partners to lower the price of these drugs. Another challenge in Linn County and adjoining areas is a lack of enough space/beds for providing care to individuals who desperately need it.

If you have a friend or family member suffering from opioid use disorder who needs treatment, contact ASAC at (319) 390-4611 or visit asac.us/gethelp. For more information and resources, visit hhs.gov/opioids/ or idph.iowa.gov/mat.

• Pramod Dwivedi is Linn County Public Health director. Jim Levett serves on the Linn County board of health and is president of Cedar Rapids Healthcare Alliance. Wayne Jerman is Cedar Rapids police chief. Barbara Gay is executive director of the Area Substance Abuse Council.

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