Fighting opioid epidemic will take concerted approach
The opioid epidemic is not just a personal, medical or law enforcement problem, Dr. Kayse Shrum says, and it will take a concerted and cooperative approach that will involve many disciplines, agencies and health care providers to combat.
Shrum, president of Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences and dean of the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, was in town last week for the first of a series of summits on addiction in rural Oklahoma.
The statistics are alarming, according to the OSU Center for Health Sciences:
• Oklahoma ranks first among the states for highest nonmedical use of prescription painkillers;
• Oklahoma has the 10th-highest drug overdose death rate in the nation; and
• Eight Oklahomans, on average, die each week from opioid overdoses, more than half the 14 deaths from overdoses of all kinds.
Shrum said the OSU medical school has for some time been involved in trying to find solutions for the epidemic. In 2014 it added an addiction medicine court to its curriculum. Last year it mandated clinical rotations with a substance abuse treatment program in Tulsa. The rotations, she said, are important to show new doctors the human impact of the opioid problem.
The new OSU Center for Wellness and Recovery will combine medical expertise, research and education resources, she said. And a Project ECHO Addition Clinic is designed to share information with primary care physicians, particularly in rural areas. Doctors can present cases to a group of experts specialists, pharmacists and psychologists via teleconference. It's a natural progression for OSU, Shrum said, because the university already has a presence in every county through the OSU Extension Service and it's a leader in telemedicine.
On the medical front, work will include treatment of addiction, pain management (including alternatives to opiods) and research into why some people are much more at risk to become addicts than others.
Opioids both street drugs and prescription medications are especially dangerous because they're highly addictive and the depress respiration so that victims just stop breathing.
"Because of that, it's become an epidemic," she said.
One strategy is to continue to expand availability of Nalaxone to treat opioid overdoses. It is available without a prescription at some pharmacies, and the number of first responders carrying Nalaxone kits has grown. Shrum said Tulsa had one of highest overdose rates in state before first responders began carrying the kits.