For centuries, opiates have been used routinely and effectively to treat severe, acute pain following invasive surgical procedures, extensive burns or trauma as well as pain associated with terminal medical conditions such as various types of cancer. To this day, opiates remain the most reliable and potent analgesic agents and their use have recently increased partly due to the fact that providing adequate pain relief is now a key standard of care that is required by law in some states. In addition to potent analgesia, opiates considerably reduce anxiety by producing mild sedation along with a palpable sense of well-being that often crosses the boundary to euphoria. The extensively documented problem with opiate analgesics is that the most powerful medicines for pain management are also the most liable to cause opioid abuse and addiction.
In the US, opiate abuse has reached unprecedented epidemic proportions, to the point of opiate addiction crisis, a critical public health issue addressed by President Barack Obama during a panel discussion at the 2016 National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit held in Atlanta on March 29. Heroin abuse often starts with a prescription for a painkiller to alleviate acute pain i.e. following tooth extractions. According to a recent study published in the "Journal of the American Medical Association", dentists may be prescribing an excessive amount of opiate analgesics for post-extraction pain, despite scientific evidence that a combination of acetaminophen and non-steroidal drugs may provide safer and more effective treatment for pain after these common dental procedures.
At age 16, Robert who lives in Madison, Wisconsin underwent a wisdom tooth extraction procedure and was prescribed an opioid medicine for pain relief. As it turned out, the seemingly harmless prescription painkiller inflicted years of emotional pain upon Robert's family, as he spiraled into an opioid addiction. According to his mother, Robert soon began to take other prescription painkillers that he could get from his friends, buy off the street or steal from medicine cabinets, and later heroin, often combined with alcohol. Robert has been using prescription opiate analgesics and heroin, on and off, for 18 years.
Robert's mother recognized the tell tale signs of her son's opiate addiction based on self-education and the increasingly raised awareness in the community leading to laws across the nation to reduce opiate overdose mortality. These laws provide access to the emergency, life-saving medicine naloxone (Narcan) with ease. Although Narcan is a prescription medication, it's not a controlled substance and it cannot be abused.
Robert's mother and other 20 parents of opiate addicts recently went to a training session in Madison, Wisconsin to learn how to correctly administer the life-saving drug. In the event of an opioid overdose, his mother wants to be able to save Robert's life by administering the opiate overdose reversal medicine Narcan which can quickly reverse overdose from prescription painkillers and heroin, as manifested by central nervous system and /or respiratory depression.
Heidi Olson-Streed, who serves as a prevention specialist with Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin showed parents how to bring their children back to life using a syringe filled with Narcan. Over the last decade, the organization has taught more than 8,000 people how to administer naloxone for suspected or known opiate overdose and, according to prevention director Scott Stokes, around 4,500 lives have been saved by families, friends and first responders administering Narcan in due time. Together, prescription painkillers and heroin take the lives of nearly 70 Americans per day, according to CDC.
In Madison and other cities across Wisconsin, both firefighters and police carry Narcan, referred to as " the Lazarus drug" to save the lives of those who have overdosed on prescription painkillers and heroin. Robert is currently clean and undergoes treatment with Vivatrol, a medication that curbs cravings and blocks the body's opiate receptors, which means that even if one attempts to get high, he or she does not feel it.