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Your Health
A Noozhawk partnership with Cottage Health

How Aware Are You of Painkiller Misuse?

The United States has been trapped in an escalating epidemic of dependence on opioids. Click to view larger
The United States has been trapped in an escalating epidemic of dependence on opioids. (Cottage Health photo via Shutterstock)

Dr. Thomas Jones always questioned the long-term use of prescription painkillers. He just wishes he had spoken out louder against the practice as it took hold in the 1990s.

Now, as the country recognizes an epidemic of dependence on opioids, Jones has helped form a task force with other Cottage Health physicians to address the issue at home.

“We need to be skeptical,” said Jones, medical director of the Santa Barbara Neuroscience Institute at Cottage Health.

“We need to say, ‘What’s the science behind the use of these drugs?’”

The Cottage Health task force also includes Dr. Paul Erickson, medical director for psychiatry and chemical dependency; Dr. Joseph Frawley, who specializes in addiction and chronic pain management; and Dr. Christopher Flynn, the emergency medical director.

“I think there are ways in which we can reduce the use of opioids, both in the community and in the hospital, quite a bit,” Erickson said.

While the task force will reach out directly to primary care physicians and others who treat pain, everyone needs to understand what’s at stake, especially patients.

Warning Signs of Opioids Misuse

Overdose that involves opioids, whether prescribed medications like Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin, or illegal opioid drugs like heroin, can be fatal and are the most pressing cause for concern.

Dangerous situations also arise when opioids are used in combination with alcohol or other powerful drugs, including some prescription medications.

Opioid Overdose Danger Signs

Call 9-1-1 if a person exhibits any of these symptoms:

» Face is extremely pale or feels clammy to the touch

» Body has gone limp

» Fingernails or lips have a purple or blue color

» Vomiting or making gurgling noises

» Cannot be awakened or is unable to speak

» Breathing or heartbeat slows or stops

If you are taking opioids for pain relief, make sure to follow the doctor’s directions and dosage in your prescription. Also, if you see more than one health-care provider, be sure to disclose all drugs you are taking to safeguard against harmful interactions.

Withdrawal Symptoms

While overdose cases are common, the Cottage Health Emergency Department sees even more patients who are suffering the effects of opioid withdrawal.

Those effects can include:

» Runny nose

» Prickly skin

» Diarrhea

» Nausea

» Feeling cold, clammy and sweaty

» High-intensity pain or cramps in muscles and joints

In these cases, treatment is not as urgent, but a physician can suggest or prescribe non-narcotic medications to help control nausea, diarrhea and muscle cramps caused by the withdrawal, as well as short-term medications for anxiety.

Addiction Recovery

If you are dependent on opioids, it can be difficult to stop using them on your own. To increase your odds for success, first consult with a primary-care physician or an addiction specialist.

Cottage Residential Center offers affordable treatment programs for those recovering from alcohol and chemical dependency. CRC provides solutions that empower recovery, restore dignity and reconnect families. Since 1975, Cottage Health has been dedicated to providing the most up-to-date, effective, and dignified treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction.

Recovery Road Medical Center in Santa Barbara offers a multidisciplinary program specific to people dealing with chronic pain that can also address related drug dependency and addiction. Frawley, the center’s co-founder, is an internist who has special training in chronic pain management and in treating addictions. He’s a member of Cottage Health’s new opioid task force, too.

There are also several AEGIS Treatment Centers located on the Central Coast. AEGIS offers replacement therapy, in which a patient who is dependent on a prescription opioid receives an alternative opioid, such as methadone, to help relieve cravings and withdrawal symptoms while working toward recovery with medical supervision and at the person’s own pace.

Narcotics Anonymous Santa Barbara also offers support.

Finally, if you do use prescription opioids, make sure they are in a secure place, even a safe, where other family members, especially teenagers and other children, cannot access them.

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