Opioid abuse and awareness
America’s chronic problem
For millions of Americans, their families and their friends, opioid addiction is a daily struggle. For some, the consequences are deadly. In fact, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans age 50 and younger. This epidemic has grown and spread at such a rapid pace that the crisis has been declared a public health emergency.
Many organizations serving the greater good feel called to offer help to those dealing with opioid addiction. Some offer spiritual guidance, family counseling, soup kitchens, weekly religious services, or other forms of support, while others choose to stock or distribute life-saving antidotes to be administered in the event of an overdose.
Regardless of their approach, all organizations should be prepared to respond to an overdose or drug-related incident that may occur at their facility.
A rapidly developing issue
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled since 1999. Opioids include two main groups:
- Non-prescription: The use of illicit drugs such as heroin has grown exponentially in past years. Recently, an even more potent drug called fentanyl has become widely used. Deaths resulting from heroin and fentanyl overdoses have become more and more common. Many people, however, first become addicted to opioids by using a prescription opioid before transitioning to illicit drugs.
- Prescription: Many people develop addictions to opioids after receiving drugs for pain management or other medical reasons. Commonly prescribed drugs such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), and methadone frequently lead to addiction, overdose and death, especially when over-prescribed. According to the CDC, both prescription rates and deaths have nearly quadrupled since 1999 and account for approximately half of all overdose deaths.
Unfortunately, an average of 91 Americans die from opioid overdoses every day. These overdoses happen to people from all walks of life and can occur anytime, anywhere.
Prepare to react
The increasing number of people facing opioid addiction makes it more and more likely that members of community or service organizations, such as churches, may find themselves in the presence of someone experiencing a drug overdose. All organizations should be prepared to respond to a drug-related incident and have a policy in place to act accordingly. Are you able to answer these two questions?
- What would you do in the event of a drug overdose at your facility?
- Be prepared to spot these three key symptoms of an overdose and take action:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Slowed or stopped breathing
- Unconsciousness / non-responsiveness
- Call emergency services immediately.
- Administer first-aid treatment - review your state’s Good Samaritan laws ahead of time to understand your liability.
- What would you do if you discovered drugs at your facility or suspect they are present?
- Your first reaction may be to counsel an individual in possession of, or using, illegal drugs. However, we recommend involving law enforcement, especially if the individual demonstrates signs of violence or may be under the influence.
- If the drugs are unattended, secure the area and do not touch the suspected drugs. Doing so can expose you to a potentially toxic substance and can corrupt potential evidence.
Naloxone: a life-saving tool
Similar to other life-saving products, such as an automatic external defibrillator (AED) for treating cardiac arrest or epinephrine (EpiPen) for treating allergic reactions, some organizations choose to maintain a supply of naloxone (also known as Narcan®) to potentially save the lives of those suffering an opioid overdose. For those experiencing the overdose, a dose of naloxone administered in a timely manner can mean the difference between life and death.
Naloxone is widely heralded as a safe and effective treatment proven to save lives. Controversy sometimes arises with critics who may consider the antidote to be a “life line” encouraging drug use. Naloxone, however, is now becoming much more widely available for purchase and use by individuals and organizations under state law. If your organization is interested in purchasing, administering, or distributing naloxone, it is very important that you first consider state and local laws and work with local legal counsel to ensure you remain compliant with applicable laws.
If your organization possesses naloxone to be used in the event of an opioid overdose, monitor any changes in state law and follow all relevant guidelines. At a minimum, it is recommended to do the following:
- Establish a plan to manage your stock of naloxone. Include procedures to monitor the number of doses in stock and to determine where doses will be kept and who will have access to them. Also establish protocols to monitor expiration dates and safely dispose expired supplies.
- Train an emergency response team to recognize the symptoms of an overdose and administer the treatment in a safe and responsible fashion. Check with state or county officials to learn what additional training resources are available in your area and how legal liability may apply.
- If using a hypodermic needle to administer the treatment, seek professional training and consider best practices for the safe handling of needles. Be mindful of needle pricks and safe disposal methods to prevent bloodborne pathogen incidents.
- Be prepared for the victim to become combative upon regaining consciousness.
- Always contact emergency services as the drugs are still in the person’s system and further treatment may be needed.