Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

What about opioids; my simple plan

Wick's World

 


It’s everywhere and it’s cheap. Oxycodone and similar painkillers are the new heroin; to make matters worse, the old heroin has reared its ugly face, in a much stronger form. The word on the street is heroin is now cheaper than the pharmaceuticals stolen from Grandpa’s medicine cabinet. I will be so bold as to take my life experience and offer a solution that may slow down this epidemic.

I began using opiates legally a few years after discharge from military service. I had suffered a back injury during a parachute jump while decked out with about 60 pounds of combat gear. I was distracted while watching one of my squad members whose chute failed to deploy. I landed with a thud and have periodically had a backache ever since.

By the time I reached my late 30s, my chronic backache was accompanied by opiate use. My doctor prescribed a common medicine, which contained acetaminophen and a small amount of the opiate codeine. For the next 30 years, I would periodically get a prescription of 30 tablets, one or two times per year. I only used them as needed and never took more than one tablet a day. The medicine was effective at relieving my mild chronic pain and, at least for me, came addiction free. The difference with codeine is it lacked the euphoria of today’s modern painkillers, which make them highly subject to abuse.

Following my 2011 car accident in which I broke both my front and back, I exited the hospital with a large jar of morphine tablets along with oxycodone. Eventually I was placed in an upper body cast and restricted to sitting upright. I was allowed to exercise by walking five miles a day. Within three months, both my sternum and vertebrae had healed and, although I was on a strong regimen of opiates, I gradually weaned myself off the powerful painkillers.

Here is my simple and easy plan to help prevent people from getting addicted to opioids in the first place. Medical personnel routinely prescribe hydrocodone as the first line of defense against severe pain. My solution is to return to the old standby, codeine, as the first drug prescribed for severe pain and stay with it for as long as possible. For most patients, codeine not only lacks the euphoria associated with today’s plethora of painkillers, often, if abused, its greatest side effect is nausea. How many patients would abuse their painkillers if it meant getting sick to your stomach, rather than getting a drug-induced “high”? Codeine has been used for decades without the explosion of the illegal abuse seen with today’s new pills.

Currently the medical profession is under pressure from the government to make it harder for current and new patients to get the pain medicine they need. I contend that by using codeine for the first line of prescribing painkillers, rather than the newer and stronger drugs, patients would be less likely to abuse them. This sounds like a very small step and I readily admit that it is, but maybe it’s a start. However, the newer pills produce huge profits for the drug companies and they probably would not care for my approach.

A much bigger problem is the black market. I read the Boston Globe this morning. Once I got past the front page’s fake headline of what a Donald Trump administration would look like, I read a frightening article called “Chinese Suppliers Flood US, Canada with Lethal Fentanyl.” Besides having cheap heroin available on the streets, a new drug has begun its death march across North America. Fentanyl is a very powerful painkiller generally used in surgery. It is now being added to heroin or pressed into pill form and sold as oxycodone, etc. In pure form, fentanyl is 100-1,000 times stronger than heroin.

During a recent bust in Syracuse, New York, one of the alleged dealers warned the police not to “touch the drug.” Even contact with fentanyl on bare skin is enough to kill you. Wow! We do have a problem.

 

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