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Media Center News Opiate deaths up 400%

Opiate deaths up 400%

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On average, 27 have died this way each year since '07

Larimer County residents have been dying due to drug overdoses in increasingly larger numbers during the past decade. And since 2007, the most fatal drugs have been prescription opiates, which include many common painkillers.



Dr. Jeremy Dubin, a family practitioner in Loveland and expert on family and addiction medicine, said the face of those hooked on and dying from prescription drugs is changing.

"This is your soccer mom and your 48-year-old lawyer and your 58-year-old HOA member," said Dubin, a doctor at Healing Arts Family Medicine. "This is not your homeless heroin addict that we're talking about."

From 2000 to 2006, there was an average of about five people each year in the county who died from an overdose where an opiate was the primary drug that caused death, according to the Larimer County Coroner's Office.

But since 2007, there has been an average of 27 deaths per year due to opiates, which include painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin.

The coroner's office said most overdose deaths are the result of a combination of alcohol and either prescription or illegal drugs. The data reported by the coroner reflects the primary drug of abuse at the time of death.

There were 12 deaths in the county in 2000 from either drug or alcohol overdose, and that number steadily climbed to 48 in 2009, according to the data. Of those 48 deaths, 30 were instances in which opiates were the primary drug abused. Numbers for 2010 are not yet available.

Dubin said the rise in deaths is likely attributable to increases in accessibility, improved delivery methods and convenience as well as a false sense that because the drugs were prescribed they're safer than illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine.

Fran Culler, the nursing manager of the emergency room at Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, said there's no doubt there are more drugs available, including cannabis, which can contribute to a deadly mixture.

"I do think there is an increased availability of all medications and obviously cannabis," she said. "Someone who has a chronic medical illness may not be helped by opiates, so they use (cannabis) to potentiate the other medications they're taking. There are so many variations of cannabis, but there are not scientific results that show this kind works better with OxyContin or this strand works best with Vicodin."

Dubin also said proper screening by family doctors is important to determine if someone is likely to become addicted to medications.

"These are people who are slipping through the cracks with how they are being screened by their doctors," he said. "Physicians are uncomfortable talking about smoking, death, sex and addiction. So naturally, it's much easier to throw a Vicodin prescription at somebody than to screen them and ask if they have a history of substance abuse."

Culler said the ability to screen patients is very limited in an emergency room.

"We have them for a very short period of time because we are an outpatient department," she said. "To determine an addictive personality, you'd need several visits and the same practitioner to make a determination of that. We're going to go down the avenue of asking 'Do you use recreational medications or meds not prescribed by a doctor?' "

Part of the problem is that medical schools aren't devoting enough attention to substance abuse and addiction treatment, Dubin said.

"Less than 1 percent of medical curriculum is devoted to treating substance abuse and addiction," he said. "In most (emergency rooms) and family offices, it's about 10 to 15 percent of our population. That's about the same as diabetes."

Both Dubin and Culler said it's common for co-occurring disorders to contribute to a patient's addiction.

"What's going on is sometimes (the medication) is not taken for the pain, but it's helping their anxiety or helping their depression," Dubin said. "... Then not only do you have a separate disease that we need to figure out, because you could kill yourself, but now you also have a co-occurring issue we have to deal with."

Dubin said he adamantly believes there is hope for those who are addicted to a drug.

"There's no quick fix. Detoxification is not treatment and medication alone is not treatment," he said. "Treatment has to address a very complex condition that includes psychological, emotional, physical and even spiritual issues. It almost demands a holistic approach or long-term recovery isn't possible."

Dubin also said proper screening by family doctors is important to determine if someone is likely to become addicted to medications.

"These are people who are slipping through the cracks with how they are being screened by their doctors," he said. "Physicians are uncomfortable talking about smoking, death, sex and addiction. So naturally, it's much easier to throw a Vicodin prescription at somebody than to screen them and ask if they have a history of substance abuse."

Culler said the ability to screen patients is very limited in an emergency room.

"We have them for a very short period of time because we are an outpatient department," she said. "To determine an addictive personality, you'd need several visits and the same practitioner to make a determination of that. We're going to go down the avenue of asking 'Do you use recreational medications or meds not prescribed by a doctor?' "

Part of the problem is that medical schools aren't devoting enough attention to substance abuse and addiction treatment, Dubin said.

"Less than 1 percent of medical curriculum is devoted to treating substance abuse and addiction," he said. "In most (emergency rooms) and family offices, it's about 10 to 15 percent of our population. That's about the same as diabetes."

Both Dubin and Culler said it's common for co-occurring disorders to contribute to a patient's addiction.

"What's going on is sometimes (the medication) is not taken for the pain, but it's helping their anxiety or helping their depression," Dubin said. "... Then not only do you have a separate disease that we need to figure out, because you could kill yourself, but now you also have a co-occurring issue we have to deal with."

Dubin said he adamantly believes there is hope for those who are addicted to a drug.

"There's no quick fix. Detoxification is not treatment and medication alone is not treatment," he said. "Treatment has to address a very complex condition that includes psychological, emotional, physical and even spiritual issues. It almost demands a holistic approach or long-term recovery isn't possible."

 

Original Story

Last Updated on Saturday, 14 August 2010 00:55  

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