My last blog post detailed how widespread frivolous prescriptions for opioid pain killers have been in North Alabama. In this blog post, I will widen the scope a bit and cover the impact opioid abuse has had both nationally as well as locally.

Deaths Related to Opioids

In a data chart available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over the span of 2008 to 2013 the increase in deaths related to opioids has been consistent. In 2008, some 14,800 individuals died due to these medications. In 2013, that figure rose to 16,235, easily eclipsing the numbers specifically related to heroin deaths (3,041 and 8,260 respectively) and cocaine deaths (5,129 and 4,944 respectively). In 2015, the combined numbers of opioid and heroin deaths ballooned to 33,091 according to the CDC. A recent statistic related to this problem that really stands out to me is that, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association Drug-Impaired Driving: A Guide for States, 2017 Update, more fatal car accident drivers test positive now for drugs in their systems (43%) than do those with alcohol (37%).

The impact of opioid abuse has been dramatic, with librarians now being trained to handle overdoses in San Francisco, Denver and Philadelphia, a church in Cincinnati has taken to giving out Narcan kits (an antidote for opioid overdoses) and law enforcement agencies are developing treatment programs that specifically do not call for the arrest of people who approach them for help with their addiction. Even Reddit is trying to help out.

With law enforcement agencies nationwide increasingly equipping their members with the aforementioned Narcan kits, not everyone is on board. Butler County Ohio Sheriff Rick Jones made headlines nationally when he pointedly declared that his deputies would not be equipped with the antidote: “We don’t do the shots for bee stings, we don’t inject diabetic people with insulin. When does it stop?” In his way of thinking, he’s “not the one that decides if people live or die. They decide that when they stick that needle in their arm.”

Narcan in Alabama

For what it’s worth, the Madison County, Alabama Sheriff’s department keeps its supply at the station and doesn’t equip its deputies, while the City of Madison Police Department allows for its qualified members to carry it. Apparently, both the Madison County Sheriff’s office and the Huntsville Police department rely on emergency medical services to administer the drug in the field.

So how does all this trickle down locally? According to the Madison County Coroner’s office, some 43% of accidental deaths in that jurisdiction are drug related, 75% of which are linked to opioid overdoses. That totals 37 in 2017 so far. And those are just the deaths. HEMSI’S Chief Operating Officer Don Webster recently related that his agency has responded to some 400 overdose calls this year alone in the area, 44 this past June, which includes five in one night. He said he wasn’t surprised: “I want to assure you this is an everyday occurrence in Huntsville and Madison County….”

On the bright side, Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, recently weighed in on the matter with his advice to his constituents that they should not be “fooled” by the apparent hype: “In Alabama, we have a lot of real crisis that we ought to be paying attention to….” So there’s that.

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