Doctor: Some of the worst impacts of the opioid epidemic go unseen

Michael D. Pitman Staff Writer

Many experience the opioid epidemic from what they can see. But Dr. Janet Everhard, of New Richmond, calls the epidemic “quite invisible” said said the aftermath of overdoses — whether it’s someone clinging to life following an overdose or the family trying to answer questions after a loved one dies — is what is visible and has a tremendous “ripple effect.”

“It’s the ripples that is so obvious,” she said.

That includes children placed in foster care away from drug-abusing parents, full prisons because of drug activity, and local police and fire departments trying to catch up with the high demand of responding to overdose victims.

“They’re stretching their local budgets in a big way because this is an expensive problem.”

More than 4,000 people died in 2016 from overdose deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health. That was driven by opioids and drugs like fentynal and carfentanil that were laced with heroin, as well as cocaine. The degrees of separation to the opioid and heroin epidemic is constantly shrinking “because we all know that a person that has maybe not overdosed but maybe has difficulty with prescription drugs, or a drug problem,” said Everhard, who spent two decades as a surgeon and is a congressional candidate for Ohio’s 2nd District.

Tuesday’s event in Madisonville in the East End of Cincinnati was the third of a series of five southwest Ohio forums on the opioid epidemic. A couple dozen people attended the evening discussion at the Madisonville Recreation Center to address three questions:

• What does the opioid epidemic look like in our community?

• What do we see as causes of the epidemic in our community?

• What steps might we take to combat the opioid epidemic?

A lot of the blame Tuesday night attendees was being placed on over-prescribed medication and the inability of doctors to help patients manage pain versus giving them pills to make it go away. And when the prescriptions run out, said Paul Komarek of Cincinnati, people turn to the criminal element for their fix.

“That drives people to the black market and they have no idea what they’e buying, and they’re being taken advantage of by criminals,” he said, comparing it to when bootleggers were selling alcohol during prohibition. “This is just like post-prohibition and prohibition America because people want the drugs the criminals are selling.”

But the problem isn’t the opioids themselves, said Dr. Craig Cleveland of the Sunrise Treatment Center.

“Opiates are bad in some instances, but in other cases they’re a lifesaver,” he said.

Some in the room said it’s not a drug crisis but rather an “addiction crisis” as opioid addicts are turning to non-opioid drugs. Methamphetamine, which is made from the decongestant pseudeophedrine found in Sudafed, is surging in use across the nation, according to the New York Times and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The Center for Disease Control reports there was a 40 percent increase in overdose deaths from 2010 to 2016 and a 73 percent from 2000 to 2016. The rate of drug overdose deaths involving heroin increased from one per every 100,000 people to nearly five per every 100,000 people from 2010 to 2016.