Town hall to address opioid epidemic

Panel of local, regional and state experts to be featured

Becky Koppen

In an effort to educate the public about the growing opioid epidemic, Central Iowa RSVP is hosting a town hall meeting on June 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Webster City High School Prem Sahai Auditorium, according to Becky Koppen, Central Iowa Webster City RSVP Volunteer Coordinator.

The town hall will feature a panel of six local, regional and state experts in the field of opioid use and abuse.  Working in partnership with RSVP are the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, the Hamilton County Public Health Nursing, Van Diest Medical Center, Hy-Vee Pharmacy, the Webster City Police Department, the Community and Family Resources and Partnership for Drug Free Kids – Iowa.

The partnership has developed an opioid abuse education program called SPAN the Generation which stands for Seniors Preventing Addiction to Narcotics.

The keynote speaker for the town hall meeting will be Peter Komendowski of the Partnership for Drug Free Kids – Iowa.

Statistics released by the Center for Disease Control and the United States Department of Health and Human Services show that opioid overdoses killed over 42,000 Americans in 2016.  That’s a 40 percent increase of prescription deaths from the previous year.  As the most recent statistics are from 2016, those numbers are expected to have risen in the two years since then.

According to HHS, 116 Americans die every day from an opioid-related drug overdose.

Opioids have long been used in American medicine.  Morphine, for instance, was used for treating the wounded in the Civil War, according to Koppen.

Opioids have always been available and have been used both medically and recreationally, Koppen explained.  

“In the early 1900’s, there were opium dens, but opium was known to be addictive,” she said.

It was because of its addictive nature that the medical community was hesitant in prescribing the drug, said Koppen.

But in the 1990s, the drug companies announced it had created a non-addictive, 12-hour release pain reliever, which if taken as prescribed, would not be addictive.

Unfortunately, that claim was not true as it was addictive.  Also, people taking opioids learned that by crushing it then ingesting it, snorting it or injecting it, the 12-hour relief produced an immediate high.

For their part, doctors now try to achieve patient pain relief through over-the-counter measures or by limiting the quantity of pills in a single prescription.  But for the people already addicted, they doctor shop for prescriptions or seek illegal and deadly street drugs, said Koppen.

HHS and the CDC have identified three waves of how the opioid epidemic has evolved.  The first wave was prescribed drugs.  Once patients became addicted and could not longer get prescribed drugs, they sought a substitute for opioids, resulting in an increase in heroin traffic and addiction.

The final wave is the arrival of synthetic opioids (IMF) such as fentanyl.  Fentanyl is illegally made and is a much more powerful opioid.  It is one of the drugs that claimed the lives of rock singers Prince and Tom Petty.

According to Koppen, the profile of the opioid addict is aging.  Baby Boomers, people 50-69 years of age, represent the fastest growing demographic of addicts.

HHS reports the highest rate of drug overdose deaths have been recorded in West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.  The State of Kentucky recently filed lawsuits against a pharmaceutical manufacturer, a drug distributor and Walgreen pharmacy for their role in fueling the opioid epidemic in that state.

Twenty six other states have identified an increase in opioid overdose deaths.  Included are Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin.  As of yet, Iowa has not been included in that statistic.

Funds to fight opioid addiction are available, said Koppen, but many are ashamed because of the stigma of being an addict.

“It is not a simple fix,” she said in battling addiction.  “It is a life-long battle, like alcoholism”.

With that in mind, it is better to prevent addiction than to wait for a full-grown problem to develop, she said.

The SPAN the Generations town hall is the first step toward educating the public and offering intervention resources, she said.