• By Vivien Williams

The Overdose Epidemic: Heroin and Prescription Drugs

December 22, 2015

heroin needle syringe drugsThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the United States is in the midst of a drug-overdose epidemic. In their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the CDC reports that last year overdose killed more than 45,000 people, most of whom had taken opioids — heroin or prescription medications such as oxycodone. They also report that since 2000, the death rate from overdoses involving opioid pain relievers and heroin increased 200 percent. Mayo Clinic addiction specialist Dr. Jon Ebbert says, "We are in the middle of an opioid crisis. As a society, we need to invest more in mental health, and we need to invest more in drug treatment."

Dr. Ebbert supports the use of nasal naloxone, a medication recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to reverse opioid overdose. Overdose results when an opioid drug slows a person's breathing to the point of respiratory failure. "To put it simply, naloxone works by removing the opioid molecules that suppress respiration, helping  people breathe again. It wakes them up. I like to say that naloxone revives people, but treatment saves them."

Dr. Ebbert says opioid medications are often necessary for the proper treatment and management of pain. He believes physicians must assess patients carefully and provide adequate monitoring and follow up for patients on opioid medications. He also encourages easier access to naloxone and the support of effective treatment for people addicted to any type of opioid drug.

Journalists: Sound bites with Dr. Ebbert are available in the downloads.

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