Opioid deaths still rising, but so is hope: Help is easier to get than ever

Published 12:05 am Saturday, February 15, 2020

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LAPLACE — Opioid deaths are on the rise, according to recent findings from the Louisiana Opioid Data and Surveillance System, but prevention tools and overdose-reversal medication ensures there are ways to fight the epidemic.

There are 10 medication-assisted Opioid Treatment Providers spread across Louisiana, and one is conveniently located in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Located at 128 Woodland Avenue in LaPlace, Choices of Louisiana offers life-changing and evidence-based Methadone treatment for individuals who have been addicted to opioids for at least 12 months.

Karen Stubbs Church, J.D., of the Louisiana Department of Health said 2020 is a landmark year for opioid use disorder treatment. Medicaid is funding Methadone treatment for the first time, and there are other options available to help people rise beyond addiction.

“If cost is a concern, we still encourage you to go. They can help you fill out that Medicaid application and see if it’s covered,” Church said. “If not, you may qualify for grant coverage.”

The outlook for the opioid epidemic is laced with both storm clouds and silver linings.

“When you look at the current data, it doesn’t suggest that we are anywhere close to the end of the opioid epidemic in Louisiana,” Church said. “However, it does show some progress and that the state is being responsive to some of the initiatives that have been put into place.”

An increase in reported deaths can be attributed to at least two factors: the rise of more potent and deadly opioid derivatives, and better collection of data.

Opioids can either be legal or illegal substances. Doctors prescribe some addictive opioids, such as OxyContin, to help patients manage pain. Heroin and other illegal opioids are sold on the streets, and new derivatives are making it easier than ever to accidentally overdose.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and approximately 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

Louisiana news outlets near Lake Charles recently reported on “Gray Death,” an even more dangerous drug made by combining heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and other deadly substances.

Church hopes to see a plateau in the number of deaths in 2020, followed by a steady decrease in years to come. New legislation has made it easier to monitor prescriptions.

According to Church, 2019 saw a decrease in the number of opioid prescriptions written by doctors.

Meanwhile, there has been an increase in prescriptions for a fast acting and easy-to-administer overdose reversal medication called Naloxone, also known as Narcan.

“If someone is having an overdose from an opioid such as heroin, subscription pills or fentanyl, you can issue Naloxone,” Church said. “It will give you time to call the ambulance. It is truly an immediate lifesaving medication. ”

According to Church, having Naloxone on hand is crucial for those who know or suspect that someone they love is struggling with an opioid addiction. Since the symptoms of an overdose include loss of consciousness, it is unlikely they would be able to administer it themselves.

Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is one of the more common anti-opioid treatments made available in an easy and safe nasal spray.

Church also recommends Naloxone be kept on hand in areas that see large groups of people, including churches, colleges/universities and funeral homes.

Naloxone is available through Medicaid. Drugstores such as CVS and Rite-Aid also carry Naxolone, and Church said prescriptions are not required to obtain the medication. Grant options are also available to cover costs.

“It comes in a nasal spray form, so it’s easy to dispense. When you get it from your drug store, they’ll do a quick training,” Church said. “The really great thing about Naloxone is you can’t go wrong if you administer it. If someone is having an overdose from a non-opioid, Naloxone will not affect or harm that person. If they are in a opioid overdose, this can save their life.”

However, it’s essential to remember Naloxone is NOT a replacement for emergency treatment. The next step should always be to call 911 and call an ambulance for further medical attention.

Overdose survivors should strongly consider seeking treatment. A list of providers and information on inpatient, outpatient and medication-assisted treatment options is available at ldh.la.gov.

Those battling opioid addiction can also call the LaPlace Choices of Louisiana office at 985-651-3777.

Local coordinators described the treatment options as caring and confidential. Methadone treatments are known to relieve withdrawal symptoms and opioid cravings, allowing for normal functioning.

The LaPlace Clinical coordinator told L’OBSERVATEUR the office can also refer out for other services, whether it is for mental health, medical services or job-seeking services.

Church said the Louisiana Department of Health is involved in various preventative programs. “Generation Rx” is a 7-module educational tool that can be tailored to different audiences. There are also opioid opt-out forms to start a conversation with your doctor about alternative pain treatment options.