Heroin and Opioids


Do you feel like heroin and opioids (outside of the election and other world news) are the only things you hear about these days? I do too, but it is for good reason. Opiate addiction is an extremely complex and serious disease. A person who has the disease is prone to relapse, really at any time, and the consequences are often deadly.

During my first years of my twenty year career working as a pharmacist, I was surprised and frustrated at the amount of time I spent verifying the honesty of patients and legitimacy of their prescriptions. I wanted to move on and care for patients in other ways. I lacked the knowledge and understanding of addiction as a disease, which I would later learn needed to be looked at like any other disease. Yes, patients who are battling addiction can try our patience and understanding, but so can patients with other types of disease.

Today, the magnitude of the opiate epidemic is in front of us and the consequences all around us. In the healthcare world, I believe a person’s addiction should be the first item addressed on their healthcare chart, not the last. Unfortunately, a moral-model healthcare environment will overlook, ignore, or minimize an addiction diagnosis and unfortunately, the outcomes can be very poor and even tragic. I have found that until a patient is continually addressing their addiction to opiates, smoking cessation isn’t going to happen. Their diet and exercise are also going to be affected. The patient may give these areas of their health attention, but until the addicted patient sees the need to treat their opiate addiction each and every day, their efforts will, in all likelihood, be in vain. Until the addict and their families come full circle and place the opiate addiction on the front burner every day, any secondary diagnosis is really just a distraction. This seems pretty out of touch when someone may be suffering from the acute consequences of their addiction, like broken bones or a severe burn as a result of intoxication. In reality, even if the addict is healed of these physical ailments; without treatment for the brain disease of addiction, their addiction cycle, will continue to negatively impact their mental and physical health again and again.

Overdose rescue kits, containing the opioid receptor blocker naloxone, are now available at pharmacies. Similar to the way you ask for Sudafed or cough syrup, anyone who feels they should have a rescue kit available for them or someone they live with or see often, may ask for the kit at the pharmacy counter. Pharmacies can then either sell you the kit or bill your health insurance. Pharmacies that supply naloxone can be found in Ohio at http://pharmacy.ohio.gov/licensing/NaloxonePharmacy.aspx.

So, how do you feel about those with an addiction being provided a rescue kit? Are you against it? Have you succumbed to the social moral model approach? If so, I would recommend slowing your thought process down to think about the nitroglycerin your father may have taken due to angina for which his smoking habit or poor eating habits may have contributed. In these situations, providing nitroglycerin for him was not condoning his habits. How about the glucose tablets your friend who is diabetic

may have as they work to maintain their blood sugar levels properly? We don’t refrain from providing your friend glucose to teach him or her a lesson. Quite oppositely you may find yourself reminding them to take these products with them.

Remember heroin and opioids change the chemistry of the brain. Usually, addicts struggle to recognize how powerless they are to their addiction. The many triggers an addict experiences is a surprise to us, but they can also be a surprise to them! Unfortunately, our community is seeing young, otherwise healthy adults (some of whom are veterans) who seem to have it together and think they have it together or feel they are putting their drug addiction behind them, suddenly experiencing intense cravings, relapsing and tragically dying.