Foster hosts panel on the science of opioid epidemic
JOLIET – It’s time we stop naming substance users as addicts, Will County Director of Substance Use Initiatives Dr. Kathleen Burke said.
“I want to ask everyone today to stop using the word ‘addict’ because it’s derogatory and it stigmatizes,” Burke said Wednesday. “People have a medical disease. It’s a substance use disorder. ‘Substance users’ is what I try to say.”
U.S. Rep Bill Foster, D-Naperville, hosted a panel discussion Wednesday at the Will County Office Building in Joliet on the science of opioid and heroin addiction, where Burke made the request. The event also focused on the neurological effects the drugs have on developing brains and responsible practices for prescribing opioids.
The panel featured Rush University Medical Center Assistant Professor of Neurology Dr. Alex Vargas and Will County Health Department Medical Director Dr. Jennifer Byrd. The Will County Board room had 20 to 25 medical professionals, political officials and community leaders in attendance for the panel. “It’s a habit to break. It’s been going on a long time,” Burke said of the labeling of habitual substance users. “But it does contribute to the idea that it’s not a medical disease but a moral failure.”
On the topic of prescriptions, Byrd said providers have to educate patients experiencing pain that the prescription of pain medications is not meant to be a long-term thing, and to re-evaluate pain levels within one to four weeks to see whether the right dosage is being prescribed to patients with acute pain. “We have to have a long-term transition plan, and we have to begin that at the same time, almost, that we’re prescribing the opioid,” Byrd said. “We have to re-evaluate the pain effectiveness very early, at one to four weeks, but four weeks is a little long to me, I’d have them back within two weeks.”
Byrd said providers also need to prescribe the smallest effective dose. Burke said that patients, not the physicians, are in charge of their health, and if a doctor says you need to have a certain pain medication, you don’t have to take it – particularly in the case of opioids. In overdose news, Burke noted the value of Naloxone, a nasal spray antidote that is capable of reversing the effects of an opioid overdose. Also known as Narcan, the lifesaver is stocked at every police department in the county.
In 2016, Narcan was deployed by police 16 times. Eleven of those times, the overdose victim survived. Of the other five, three died and two were listed as unknown. In just more than half of 2017, however, the county has used Narcan more and saved more lives than in all of 2016. To date in 2017, there have been 23 lives saved and one death when Narcan was administered. Between February and June, Burke helped train 168 people on how to use Narcan and distributed 168 boxes of it in Joliet, Monee, Morris and Wilmington. The county is expanding medical assisted treatment in the form of methadone, suboxone and vivitrol, which work to curb the cravings opioid users might have. “Research shows the most effective treatment for opioids is behavioral therapy and medical assisted treatment,” Burke said.