Grand Futures: Opioids — what you need to know | SteamboatToday.com

Grand Futures: Opioids — what you need to know

Lindsey Simbeye/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

With International Drug Overdose Awareness Day coming up Aug. 31, it's a good time to talk about how opioids are affecting our community and what you can do to safeguard your loved ones. Thanks to the great work of community partners like the Rx Task Force, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, Steamboat Springs Police Department, emergency responders and countless others, we have a general knowledge of how opioid misuse and abuse has affected our community and the results of coming together as a community to try to turn the tables. While significant strides have been made, our battle is far from over. In fact, according to the Center for Behavioral Health, 2.14 million people 12 and older had an opioid use disorder in 2016, including 153,000 12- to 17-year-olds.

At the end of the month, people around the world will take time to remember those who've been victims of overdose, with a particular focus on prescription drug overdoses. As we formalize activities in Routt County, we will post opportunities to show your support and how overdose has affected our community on the Grand Futures Prevention Coalition website at grandfutures.org. In the past 10 years, overdoses from prescription medication, especially opioids, has skyrocketed in this country and has significantly impacted our community, as well.

Overdose deaths are not confined to a certain population or demographic — drugs don't discriminate. Impoverished or wealthy, black or white, rural or urban, big families or small — it affects us all. In fact, you may be surprised to find out how close it is in your circle of influence. In an effort to help de-stigmatize and bring more light to addiction and overdose as it relates to opioids, here is what you need to know about these dangerous drugs and their effects.

• What is an opioid and where does it come from? Opioids are a class of drugs derived from opium found in the poppy plant, but can also be made in a lab with similar chemical compounds. Opioid medications are often prescribed to patients for pain management after surgery, dental work or sports injuries. Common opioids include: OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Codeine, Morphine and Fentanyl.

• How do opioids work? Opioids bind to and activate the opioid receptors in the body to block pain signals and release dopamine, "the feel good chemical" causing a wave of euphoria which makes people feel very relaxed and high. This can be dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdoses and death are common. Heroin is one of the world’s most dangerous opioids and is never used as a medicine in the U.S., but it is often the go-to drug obtained on the black market when people have become addicted but can no longer get prescription opioid medications or find that heroin is a cheaper option. Nearly 80 percent of Americans using heroin, including those in treatment, reported misusing prescription opioids before using heroin.

• How long does addiction take when using opioids? Studies have shown three to seven days of use can result in dependence which can lead to addiction. For those younger than 25, this time period is shortened because of how opioids bind to the limbic system, which is the main control center in developing brains.

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• Why do people become addicted to opioids? The feeling of euphoria caused by the release of dopamine is a large component of the addiction to these drugs. After repeated use, people can develop a tolerance which causes them to have to take more of the drug to get the same effect. This process of needing more and more of the drug is called "chasing the dragon" by some users.

• Signs of an opioid addiction include changes in mood — seemingly euphoric with sudden or unexpected changes to discontent when the drug wears off — chronic constipation, small pupils, nausea, reduced sex drive, sensitivity to pain, shallow breathing or slurred speech.

• What constitutes opioid misuse? Taking opioids that are not prescribed for you, taking prescription medications to get high rather than the for the reason in which they were prescribed, or taking them in a dose other than what was prescribed, for example taking a larger dose than recommended on the bottle or snorting the drug.

Use the following tools to safeguard yourself and your family.

  • Talk with your doctor when you or your child is prescribed an opioid.
  • Find out if an over the counter medication like Tylenol or Advil could be just as effective for pain management, or if there are other alternatives to address the pain.
  • Request a smaller supply — a two or three day supply is often sufficient.
  • Make sure you understand and are discussing with your physician the possible side effects and risk of addiction associated with these medications.
  • Make sure to keep opioid medications locked up to ensure they're being used properly and only by the person to whom they were prescribed.
  • If you have leftover medications, dispose of it promptly and correctly. The Routt County Sheriff's Office in Steamboat Springs has a dropbox for unused medications with 24/7 access.
  • Dissolve and mix medications with something unpleasant, such as kitty litter or use a drug disposal kit before placing it in a sealed container and putting it in your household garbage.
  • Talk with your child about drugs and pain management. Make sure they are educated and know the potential risks and proper use for any and all medications. Keep medications in a safe place out of the reach of children and appropriately locked up.

Getting Help: If you or a loved one need help with an opioid addiction, there are resources available.

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service's National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4345)
  • Mind Springs Health: 970-879-2141
  • The Foundry: 844-955-1066

Lindsey Simbeye is the executive director for Grand Futures Prevention Coalition.

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