How East Texas is stopping the Opioid Crisis

Imagine this: right in front of you is a tool that can make you feel incredible. It takes pain away, makes you euphoric, helps you forget stressful days and sleepless nights. You know it has a drawback, but the results are too good to pass on. You used it once to see what it does. You swear to never use it again.

But you do. The feeling is better than before. You promise yourself that you’ll only use it if it’s important, or when you really need it.

Then a third time happens. A tenth time. A thirtieth time. People tell you to stop but you can’t. The feeling of euphoria has become an addiction.

This is the drawback of opioids. If you misuse them, it slowly becomes a poison, killing you from the inside out.

For over 1,000 years, opioids have been part of medicine, first beginning with the opium poppy. Opium has been referenced in Homer’s Odyssey, administered to people to “lull all pain and anger and bring forgetfulness of every sorrow," and in Ebers Papyrus for an eaten remedy to make children stop crying. In Sumeria, opium was called “hul gil,” for “plant of joy.” In the 1850s, morphine began to be regularly used alongside anesthesiology, and heroin was later wrongly pronounced in the 1890s to be just as potent as morphine, but without the chance of addiction.

The United States still uses opioids in modern medicine, ranging from morphine, hydrocodone and name-brands such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. Heroin is still prevalent today, despite it being made illegal. These drugs have one of the highest addiction rates - 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed these drugs misuse them, and eight to 12 percent of those develop an addiction.

In recent years, studies have shown a massive problem with opioid drug abuse. In 2017 alone, over 47,000 people overdosed on opioids, and statistically 130 people die daily due to opioid addiction.

However, there is hope.

On Apr. 3, UT Tyler hosted a public lecture about the opioid crisis, hoping to spread awareness to students and the Tyler community. The lecture had guest panelists Smith County Sheriff Larry R. Smith, Dean of the College of Pharmacy Dr. Lane J. Brunner, Casey Lowdermilk with Celebrate Recovery, and coordinator of UT Tyler Center of Students in Recovery Bruce Bettinger.

“It’s been my personal experience that nobody comes to recovery without having some type of exposure. Rather it was conscious in their formative years,” Bettinger said.

Stopping opioid abuse has been the main focus of the crisis. However, there are many factors that delay the end goal. These include how addictive opioids are, how difficult it is to make a strong, pain-killing drug without addictive qualities, and how Pharmacy boards can push these drugs over less dangerous ones.

“I do know some pharmacy boards are more consumer oriented than they are pharmacy oriented, or medicine oriented,” Brunner said.

Brunner suggested that to overcome opioid addiction, medical practitioners, pharmacists and consumers need to work together to focus more on learning how to manage pain for the individual patient.

While not clear on depending which patient needs opioids or which are addicted to opioids, all four panelists agreed that recovering from drug addiction is not easy, but it is possible.

Bettinger and Lowdermilk have both dealt with drug addiction throughout their lives and struggled to stay sober. However, they both were able to push through with the help of therapy and programs so they can help others stay clean.

“If I can reach one more person, does it matter?” Lowdermilk asked. “If I give one person hope, to live again, to have life again, does it matter? If I can make that person one more opportunity to make the choice to live again, that’s all that matters to me.”

Celebrate Recovery and Hope Not Handcuffs both try to help citizens get over addiction and get them back on their feet. UT Tyler Center for Students in Recovery help students get back on the right track, giving them a brighter future.

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