Project FREEDOM, standing for First Responder Expansion of Education and Distribution of Overdose Medication, is an organization dedicated to reducing the number of opioid overdoses in Alabama. In America, heroin deaths have increased by 328% between 2010 and 2015. In Alabama alone, the rate of opioid deaths has increased tremendously as well in that, from just 2012 to 2017, the number of deaths has more than doubled, with 422 recorded opioid overdose deaths in 2017.
Sources of the Opioid Crisis
Prescribed opioids pose a risk beyond the patient who receives the prescription.
- Among people who abuse prescription opioids, most get them
- From a friend or relative for free (55%)
- Prescribed by a physician (20%)
- Bought from a friend or relative (11%)
Among new heroin users, about three out of four report abusing prescription opioids before using heroin. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/prescripbing.html
What are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers that are available legally by prescription (oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and more). Although opioids are available legally through prescriptions, they are still often misused and can be extremely dangerous. Legal opioids, like oxycodone, are prescribed to people who are in serious pain and can help if used exactly how they were prescribed. However, opioids are highly addictive and can be very dangerous if misused.
In the event of an opioid overdose, Narcan can be given to prevent an overdose. Narcan counteracts with life-threatening effects of an opioid overdose. It is important that as soon as an overdose is suspected that you call 911 to receive immediate help.
Dangers of Opioids
Opioids affect the nerve cells in your brain and body by blocking pain. The short-term effects of opioids can be feeling calm or sleepy, slowed or stopped breathing, nausea or vomiting, and constipation. Long-term effects can include addiction, heart infection, lung infection and muscle pain (DrugAbuse.gov). However, even in the short-term, slowed or stopped breathing can cause an overdose and death.
Once your body gets used to using opioids and you try to stop, you can go through a withdrawal period where your body feels terrible. Having withdrawals feels like a really bad flu. Being addicted to opioids can take control of your life and it can be very hard to stop. It’s important to know that opioid addiction can affect anyone, regardless of age, race or socioeconomic status.
Opioid Dependence vs. Addiction
- Most people taking Opioid for extended period develop some level of physical dependence
- Does NOT mean they are “addicted”
- Withdrawal symptoms can be minimized or managed with slow taper of medication
- Most people addicted to opioids are also physically dependent and will experience withdrawal symptoms on stopping
- Other substances can be strongly addictive (e.g.cocaine), but have withdrawal symptoms different from alcohol/opioids
Opioid Dangers to First Responders
Exposure to these types of drugs can be harmful to first responders, as they are likely to come into contact with them during routine duties. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), emergency responders should take precautions such as nitrile gloves, respiratory protection and hand washing to protect themselves. They should also avoid hand sanitizer or bleach to clean skin that may have been in contact with illicit drugs.
How to Get Help
What are the treatments for opioid misuse and addiction?
Treatments for opioid misuse and addiction include:
- Counseling and behavioral therapies
- Medication-assisted therapy (MAT), which includes medicines, counseling, and behavioral therapies. This offers a “whole patient” approach to treatment which can increase your chance of a successful recovery.
- Residential and hospital-based treatment
With more Americans dying from drug overdoses than car accidents, we need to work together to stop this epidemic. Project FREEDOM works with first responders to implement training and educational resources on opioid overdoses and reversal. Treatment is available and recovery is possible. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a treatment facility finder on their website, https://findtreatment.gov/, so you can easily and quickly find a treatment program that’s right for you.