Looking at me through haunted eyes, the patient told me that she wanted to come clean and didn't want to die. She predicted that she would be dead by the end of the year if she didn't get help. Her addiction started with opioid abuse and evolved into IV heroin when it was discovered that was much cheaper. Her friends all suffered a similar addiction so there was no help there. She no longer had any dreams or aspirations for the future. Her life's goal was getting the next fix, through whatever legal or illegal means possible.
However, her desire to get help and my wanting to help her was not such an easy fix. Apparently, she had the wrong insurance and rehab facilities would not accept it. Hours of phone calls to find her a rehab facility to get the help she needed turned into days and then weeks. Finally, a place was found, far from where she lived and had a three-month wait list until she could be seen. While we did schedule her at that facility, I was left hoping that she didn't change her mind or die of an overdose in the meanwhile, like the high school boy from our town who was dropped outside the ER when he was found not breathing by his friends. It was determined he died of a heroin overdose, the month before he was supposed to start college.
They are far from alone as casualties of this epidemic. In October 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the opioid epidemic is a public health emergency. Earlier the same week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that since 2001, prescription drugs (largely opioids) have been the greatest cause of overdose deaths. In fact, over the past six years, there have been more deaths from overdoses than guns, cars, suicides, and murder.
In 2017, on average, more than 90 Americans die every day due to overdoses involving opioids. Of all patients who receive a prescription for opioid medication for chronic pain, approximately 21-29 percent will misuse them. Furthermore, about 8-12 percent will develop an opioid use disorder. Many experts conclude that prescription abuse can be a gateway for heroin use. It has been found that, 4-6 percent of those who abuse prescription opioids will move one to using heroin. Approximately 80 percent of those using heroin first misused prescription opioids.
While the nation is recognizing the crisis, few are stepping up to help these patients. Calling out a public health emergency without dedicating federal funds to address it does not help, except maybe in winning political supporters. People are dying while our leaders ignore taking any actual action to stop it.
Most people who pontificate about the opioid crisis see a nameless, faceless statistic. I see the faces of patients, of parents who have lost children and children who have lost parents in this epidemic. I see the fall-out, of families destroyed, and those left mourning. This addiction is not limited to any socioeconomic status or race. It does not discriminate in who it holds in its grasp but affects all races, genders, ages and economic classes.