Locals: Opioids problem here, too

Published 3:19 pm Saturday, October 28, 2017

County’s rates haven’t skyrocketed like other areas

President Donald Trump this week declared the opioid crises sweeping the country a national public health emergency.

And while opioid death rates have not skyrocketed here, there is a prescription drug problem here, local officials said.

Opioids are substances that act on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects. Medically, they are primarily used for pain relief, including anesthesia.

The national crisis claimed more than 59,000 lives in 2016, according to data compiled by The New York Times. The Centers for Disease Control will not provide a total number for 2016 until December.

Trump said his plan calls for training federally-employed prescribers in safe practices for opioid prescriptions; intensified efforts to block shipments of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid manufactured in China; and suspending the rule that prevents Medicaid from funding many drug rehabilitation facilities.

Better access to rehab is the only way to combat the problem, Covington County Drug Court Coordinator Sabrina Cobb believes. Cobb estimates that about half of the cases in drug court are opioid-related, while the other half are related to street drugs.

“Almost every story starts with an injury or surgery and a prescription for pain pills,” Cobb said.

Once people become addicted, they end up in trouble for buying pills on the street, pill swapping, or committing a crime to support their habits.

“I do think doctors are cracking down on writing the prescriptions,” she said.

It’s a sad story, she said.

“Nobody wants to grow up to be a drug addict,” she said. “They just fall into it.”

Local pharmacist David Darby, who also serves on the state pharmacy board, doesn’t think changing regulations will arrest the problem.

“The only way to change it is to change human behavior,” he said.

Typically, he said, a person has some type of orthopedic issue, and gets on pain meds while they heal.

“Most people don’t like how it makes them feel, so they get off,” he said. “Other people just love it, and can’t get enough of it.”

Darby believes those people would likely become addicted to substance, even if they never had the opioids prescribed for them.

Darby, like many local law enforcement officials, agrees that there is an opioid problem in Covington County. But to date, overdoses have not been as big a problem as in other parts of the country.

The New York Times mapped the number of opioid-related deaths in the nation over the past 20 years. The map shows Covington County on the lower end of the spectrum, with a 2015 rate of 8 to 12 deaths per 100,000 people, or three to four people. Covington County Coroner Norman Hobson said that squares with what he’s seen.

“I have had a couple of case of opioid overdose,” he said. “ It’s not rampant here as far as people dying, but I do know there is a problem here. As far as deaths, I’d say I’ve investigated possibly three or four in the past couple of years that we knew were opioids. Whether they were intentional or not, we don’t know.”

Cobb said in her experience, the only way to overcome a problem is for an addict to get into treatment quickly.

And while the president’s declaration may lead to increased funding with which to fight addition, he did not request more money this week.

Trump said the government would produce “really tough, really big, really great advertising” to persuade Americans not to start using opioids, harkening back to the 1980s when First Lady Nancy Reagan led a “Just Say No” antidrug campaign.

“This was an idea that I had, where if we can teach young people not to take drugs,” Trump said, “it’s really, really easy not to take them.”