August 31, 2018

The Pain of Opioids and the Epidemic in Your Own Backyard

“An American dies every 19 minutes from opioid or heroin overdose” – U.S. surgeon general. It can happen to anyone – your grandparents, neighbors and children. While not all overdoses are the result of substance abuse, the vast majority are, and addiction doesn’t discriminate. Western North Carolina is in the midst of the opioid epidemic you hear about in the national news. Just in Buncombe County, there are so many opioid medications prescribed that an average of almost 68 opioid pills could be given to each person each year. From January to August 2017, there were 230 opioid emergency department visits due to overdose.*

*Data is sourced from BuncombeCounty.org.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are found in prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone, codeine cough syrup, Percocet or Vicodin. Some opioids, like heroin and fentanyl, are produced illicitly and sold illegally.

Opioids work by binding to special receptors in the brain, spinal cord and other areas of the body. They reduce the pain messages to the brain thereby reducing feelings of pain. With prolonged use, pain-relieving effects may lessen while the body develops a dependence on the medications. Some people develop “hyperalgia” where they feel more pain while on opioid medications. Pain can then worsen to the point where someone takes more than the prescribed amount. They might begin to experience withdrawal symptoms between what was once normal doses. Patients sometimes then turn to illegal drugs—prescription drugs bought from the street or illegal drugs like heroin—to help the pain and discomfort of withdrawal go away, resulting in a vicious cycle.

Patients experiencing opioid withdrawal may complain of the following:

  • Dysphoria (bad mood, dissatisfaction with life) and restlessness
  • Rhinorrhea (runny nose) and lacrimation (eyes watering)
  • Myalgias (muscle aches) and arthralgias (joint aches)
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhea

Have Chronic Pain? Consider Alternative Treatment

While opioids help with short-term relief from pain, there is evidence that other treatments can be effective with less harm. Research has shown taking both a 500mg tablet of acetaminophen and one 200mg tablet of ibuprofen up to 4 times a day is actually very effective at relieving pain without the risk of addiction. Other treatments, like physical therapy, yoga, meditation and acupuncture, among others, can also treat chronic pain. Often pain can be associated with prior trauma, and many patients experiencing chronic pain develop depression, so working with a behavioral health specialist may also be recommended. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider about what alternative pain treatment is available for you.

Be Responsible with Your Prescriptions

Sometimes your prescription leads to addiction in your loved ones. But you can take four easy steps to make sure that doesn’t happen.

  • Count and keep track of the number of painkillers in your home.
  • Keep your medications in their original labeled containers, this will help prevent any accidental misuse.
  • Keep opioid medications out of sight, preferably in a secured location, such as a locked box or cabinet and out of the reach of children and teens.
  • Properly dispose of unwanted, unused or expired medications. Mark your calendar for October 27, 2018 – National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

Help and Hope Are Closer Than You Think

While only 1 in 10 Americans with a substance use disorder seek treatment, we know that substance use disorder is a chronic illness that can be managed with medical treatment. Below are some of the places you might contact to consider for treatment options in western North Carolina:

  • Vaya Health Line: 1-800-849-6127
    • This line is operated by Licensed Mental Health Clinicians in western North Carolina. It is a 24/7 crisis and referral service line.
    • Access to crisis, mobile and referral services.
    • Open to residents with any types of insurance or no insurance at all.
  • Behavioral Health Urgent Care: 828-254-2700
    • C3 @ 356 Comprehensive Care Center – 356 Biltmore Avenue Asheville, NC 28801.
    • Open 24/7.
    • Call or walk in at any time to get help for behavioral health, developmental health and substance use issues.
  • RHA Mobile Crisis: 1-888-573-1006
    • Providing service to: Alexander, Buncombe, Caldwell, Henderson, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Transylvania, and Yancey counties in North Carolina.
  • Appalachian Community Services Mobile Crisis: 1-888-315-2880
    • Providing service to: Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties in North Carolina.
  • Daymark Mobile Crisis: 1-877-492-2785
    • Providing service to: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Watauga and Wilkes counties in North Carolina.
  • Catawba Valley Behavioral Health (CVBH) Mobile Crisis: 1-888-235-4673
    • Providing service to: Burke and Cleveland counties in North Carolina.