By Shane Smith
El Reno Tribune
The reports are constant. Another overdose from prescription pain pills.
In Oklahoma, one person dies every day from overdoses. That number grows to 115 people per day when the entire nation is counted.
Red Rock Behavioral Health, with offices in El Reno and Yukon, is one of many organizations working to help people who are struggling with addiction. Red Rock offers treatment, medication assisted treatment, counseling, and referrals.
International Overdose Awareness Day is set for Aug. 31, but the reality is every day falls into that category. Epidemics require more attention.
“The point is to raise awareness for the overdose epidemic and reduce the stigma in people’s eyes,” said Julia Cochrane, regional prevention coordinator for Red Rock in Yukon. “We want to let people know that we are there for them and we support them, and we want everyone to realize that it’s preventable.”
More than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, with more than 49,000 involving opioids. In Canadian County, 62 people died from drug overdoses between 2012 and 2016. From 1999 to 2016, more than 10,000 Oklahomans died from drug overdoses, and more than 6,500 of those deaths involved an opioid. For the same 17 years, the nation suffered more than 630,000 deaths from drug misuse, with 66 percent of these involving opioids.
“What we look for in recognizing an overdose is someone who doesn’t respond to noise or light, breathes slowly or not at all, or has bluish lips and fingertips,” said Cochrane.
As far as the people who misuse the drugs, there really isn’t a specific type of person, but there are some disturbing facts about two different groups. Some 14 percent of seniors in Canadian County reported using prescription drugs without the advice or approval of a doctor, and most teenagers in our country receive drugs from someone they know, a friend or a family member.
“It’s a growing problem that’s negatively impacting life in our communities, our families and our state. I really think that since opioids can be prescribed, there’s a perception that they are safer or that they aren’t addictive,” said Cochrane. “I think that has a lot to do with it, and anyone can become addicted. It’s up to our community to be a part of the solution and help prevent and treat the issue of opioid addiction.”
Red Rock’s goal is to help those who find themselves addicted by making them aware of these troubling numbers, and to educate people about alternatives for pain management and depression.
“There are ways to prevent the problem. Some people are overprescribed when there are better alternatives for their pain relief, and some people share their medication with others. It is illegal to share your prescriptions, and it’s also dangerous. You could be putting yourself or others on a dangerous path. You want to safeguard your opioids and keep them locked up to prevent theft. Also, curious children can really harm themselves if they get a hold of their parents’ medication. And people should make sure that they don’t keep their leftover pills. You can anonymously dispose of them at drop-off boxes such as the one at the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office in El Reno.”
Cochrane said much of the battle is in convincing people traditional medicines work as well or better than prescriptions.
“Five hundred mg of ibuprofen is actually more effective at treating pain than a lot of prescribed opioids,” said Cochrane. “There are also other alternatives, both for addicts and for people who may become addicts — patients who are seeing a physician for depression or physical pain can ask their doctor about non-opioid alternatives for pain management. There are things that might work better, and they would all definitely have fewer risks than opioids do. Physical therapy, exercise and counseling are also very important.”
Naloxone (Narcan) can stop the effects of overdose. Though it isn’t something that can help eliminate addiction, it can save the life of someone who has overdosed. Anyone who takes opiates for pain, even if they don’t abuse them, should have this medication on hand, Cochrane said.
“You can text ‘Naloxone’ to 55155 and it will tell you how you can obtain the medicine in your area,” said Cochrane.
People need help, not judgment.
Cochrane said the stigma of addiction and the type of person the sober public considers to be an addict isn’t really accurate. Veterans, people with genuine physical pain, people who get hurt at difficult jobs and almost any other kind of person can be prescribed an opiate and then become dependent on it. Under certain circumstances, almost anyone can become addicted to something.
“This epidemic is one of Oklahoma’s fastest growing problems, and lots of lives are being lost. International Overdose Awareness Day sends out the message that everyone’s life is valuable, and that putting a stigma on people who are addicted needs to stop. It also acknowledges all the families who have lost people. These families feel alone, and they hide their tragedy because of the stigma. They keep it to themselves because they don’t want others to judge them.”
To get involved with International Overdose Awareness Day, contact Red Rock.
For more information, visit www.redrockrpc.com or contact the Red Rock RPC director at (405)-250-9696.
Red Rock El Reno: 7777 E. US Highway 66, 405-422-8800
Red Rock Yukon: 1501 W. Commerce Street, 405-354-1928