What’s the population of your high school? Maybe 1,000? What if one day over 10 percent of them died? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, that is the amount of people that die every day in the United States from overdosing on opioids.
In Alabama, the crisis is much worse. Dr. Kimberly Braxton Lloyd, assistant dean for Health Services at the Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy, said, “It’s a national epidemic and sometimes we think, in Alabama, that we’re not part of that party scene and the epidemic that’s occurring throughout the nation, but if you look at the national statistics, Jefferson County has one of the highest statistics in the nation by county.”
Lloyd also said that Auburn is not immune from this crisis. Lloyd said, “To me, it’s a matter of time when you think about Jefferson County and the growing problem that we see in that area and that we’re only an hour and a half away from a nationally prevalent problem.”
Birmingham, the largest city in Alabama, is in the heart of Jefferson County. Chris Reid, an attorney from Birmingham, said that Jefferson County is shifting its view on the opioid crisis. “Sheriff [Mike] Hale and Jefferson County are focusing a lot more on treatment than punishment.”
This is paired with plans on the state and federal level. With the state, Alabama has created a plan that comes from an executive council established by Gov. Kay Ivey. The plan is called the “State of Alabama Opioid Action Plan” and strengthens the prescription drug monitoring program while making opioid addiction treatment options more available.
The prescription drug monitoring program keeps a record of who gets a prescription, when they get it and who gave it to them. It enables pharmacists to see when another pharmacist filled a prescription and allows them to decide whether a prescription should be filled, but it has one major flaw.
Dr. Greg Peden, director of community pharmacy services, said that pharmacists can reject to fill a prescription if they feel uncomfortable doing so, but that the patients “would have the ability to take that prescription as long as it’s legitimate and within date and go down the street to get it filled at another pharmacy.”
The opioid crisis began partly due to the overprescription of opioids by doctors to deal with minor pain and the payments of doctors by pharmaceutical companies to push their products. Currently, there is a class action lawsuit of over 400 cities, counties and Native American groups against pharmaceutical companies for misleading people about the addictiveness of opioids and promoting them.
On the federal level, Reid said “the federal legislation and the funding with it, in my opinion, won’t do anything with opioid deaths.” But, there is still hope and it lies on the community level.
Braxton Lloyd and her team have developed the Auburn University Naloxone Rapid Response Program that trains first responders on how to administer Naloxone, also known as Narcan, to individuals who are overdosing on opioids. People are able to receive a prescription and administer it to someone overdosing, but if you do not have Naloxone and come across someone overdosing, the first thing to do is call 911 and then lay them on their side.
For more information about opioids and their dangers, go to the National Institute on Drug Abuse at drugabuse.gov.
Special thanks to Logan Barrett for researching and writing this article. Logan recently graduated from Auburn University in PR and will be starting graduate school in the fall.