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International Overdose Awareness Day and the growing opioid epidemic


Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. This annual international campaign is designed to end overdoses, remember those who have died without stigma, and to increase awareness of addiction. Fake prescription pills have risen to popularity with people thinking they are taking a certain drug, only to be taking a combination of others disguised as their drug of choice.

Fake pills are easy to purchase and widely accessible, often containing drugs that people are completely unaware of like fentanyl and methamphetamine. Much of the time, these pills are sold online or through social media, becoming available to anyone with a smartphone including minors.

Fake pills have been found in all 50 states in the United States. These pills are illegally manufactured by criminal enterprises to look like real prescription pills. According to the DEA, a vast majority of these pills are produced in Mexico, with China supplying the chemicals used for manufacturing in Mexico.

According to DEA lab testing, roughly four out of ten pills with fentanyl in them contain a lethal dose. This synthetic opioid is the driving force behind the sharp increase in overdose deaths. Only 2 mg is considered a "lethal dose" by the DEA. This equals about the size of 10-15 grains of table salt. The lethality also depends on the size of the user, whether they are opioid dependent or a first time user and the amount of fentanyl found in the drug being used.

According to a Centers of Disease Control Vital Signs report, 80% of overdose deaths have occurred inside a home. In nearly 40% of overdose deaths, there was a bystander present. Administration of naloxone can make the difference between life and death.

Naloxone, commonly referred to as Narcan, is a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Many of the over-the-counter kits are administered through the nasal canal, being squirted up the nose of someone experiencing an overdose. The reason behind this is that through administration up the nose, it becomes much easier for someone without a medical background to supply the drug to someone. The medication acts as an antidote to the opioid, and helps temporarily reverse the drugs potentially deadly effects.

According to Missouri's Health Department, 230 people have died from synthetic opioid overdoses in Missouri this year. That number continues to grow.

The first priority in the University of Missouri's hospital while treating an overdose is stabilization. This requires addressing the issues and reversing the overdose. Following this, there is a period of observation, which is used to make sure there are no further effects of whatever substance the person overdosed on. Finally, overdoses are treated like any other type of medical illness. A state program called EPIC is a program the hospital can refer patients into. This program can be used for any patient suffering from any sort of substance abuse disorders. This program pairs patients with a peer counselor, who will speak with the patient, and set them up with outpatient treatment. This process can be very quick and done within a week.

According to Dr. Christopher Sampson, an emergency medical physician with the University of Missouri, the university as well as other local EMS services participate in a program of leaving Narcan kits at addresses where overdoses have occurred.

"Narcan is a temporary effect, if you have given someone Narcan it is probably also good to call 9-1-1 so they can be evaluated by emergency personnel," Sampson said.

"We have a few kits left, we leave them if possible," Sampson said. "Also, Narcan is available over the counter at pharmacies. Prices can vary between name brand and generic brands. They both serve the same purpose including the same ingredient Naloxone," he said.

Naloxone ranges in prices, whether you are buying name brand (Narcan), or a generic version. Whatever is bought, they all contain the same ingredients and can be used to temporarily reverse an overdose. Prices range from 45 to 100 dollars over-the-counter for a box containing two vials without a prescription.

Not every pharmacy stocks this drug, so it is important to check your local pharmacy if they have Narcan or the generic counterparts for purchase.

Article Topic Follows: News

Ethan Heinz


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