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Take initiative to combat opioid use: International Overdose Awareness Day

Take initiative to combat opioid use: International Overdose Awareness Day

Aug. 26, 2020

By Matt Cimino

In 2017, there were more than 72,000 preventable drug overdoses. More than half of them involved opioids.

International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) is observed every year on Aug. 31 in remembrance of those who have lost their lives from overdoses. That’s this Monday. 

It’s a topic that is especially important at Monongalia County Health Department, which applied for and received grant funding for the Monongalia County Quick Response Team (QRT). 

MCHD employees began meeting at the health department weekly with members that also include peer recovery coaches (PRC), MECCA 911, law enforcement, EMS, faith leaders and others. The QRT gets overdose reports with a goal of sending PRCs to meet with the individual within 24 to 72 hours to connect them to treatment and/or services.

In order to fully grasp the significance of prescription opioid’s role in overdoses, it’s important to realize just how greatly usage has increased over the years. Since 1999, painkiller prescriptions have nearly quadrupled. Each day, close to 7,000 people are hospitalized for misusage.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA) Alliance, painkillers are the most abused medication. These include oxycodone, hydrocodone, Percocet, methadone and codeine. There is sometimes the misperception that because these are not illegal, they are safe. 

The truth is that these drugs are extremely addictive. Once someone becomes hooked, it is very difficult to stop.

One of the best things you can do on IOAD is educate yourself and others on the issue. You also could carry naloxone, which counters the effects of an opioid overdose.

Knowing the signs of an overdose is essential in getting individuals help quickly and administering naloxone. If a person is generally unresponsive, breathing slowly, limp, pale or clammy, these could be signs of an opioid overdose. In this situation, be prepared to call 911 or administer naloxone immediately. You can also watch a video explanation of the signs of an opioid overdose. It's also good to remember that naloxone will not hurt the individual if you are unsure if it’s an opioid overdose or not, so don’t let that stand in your way of making a decision to administer to someone who might need it.

Popular brands of naloxone include Narcan and Evzio. It is an opioid antagonist, meaning that it binds to the receptors of painkillers and reverses or blocks their effects. Naloxone can be delivered through syringe or nasal spray. Individuals other than first responders are now able to administer the drug.

Monongalia County Health Department offers naloxone training to the community, both in person and via Zoom, depending on how the pandemic is progressing. Interested individuals should email Joe Klass, MCHD’s Threat Preparedness specialist, at Joseph.L.Klass@wv.gov.

While education on this issue is crucial, perhaps an equally important part is providing support to those who are already struggling. One in four people have in some way been impacted by the opioid epidemic. Developing opioid use disorder is not a choice. It is quite literally a forced rewiring of the brain.

Luckily, this condition is treatable and recovery is possible. If you know somebody who is personally struggling with drug abuse, or they know another who is, give them as much support as you can. Let them know that you care, and try to connect them to treatment. West Virginia Sober Living has been dedicated to offering recovery to those struggling with addiction. They can be reached any time at 304-413-4300.

Also, Monongalia County Health Department now employs a social worker who is part of the QRT. Mark Liptrap is taking appointments for free assessments of those with opioid use disorder or their affected family members and friends. To make an appointment with Liptrap, call 304-598-5160.
​International Overdose Awareness Day is rooted in spreading information on drug overdoses, most significantly prescription opioid abuse. Encourage others in your workplace and at home to learn about how this issue continues to affect our community. Know how to recognize if someone is struggling with abuse, or is currently overdosing. Do not hesitate to connect yourself or others to treatment.

Overcoming addiction cannot be done alone. It takes others who know what it is like, and a community that cares about the well-being of others.

Matt Cimino is a public information office intern at Monongalia County Health Department.

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