"It's very real and it happens to the best students and the best people."
The latest episode of Health Matters with Doylestown Health addresses what Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recently declared a statewide disaster emergency – heroin and opioid abuse. It is an epidemic that claims lives every day around the country and close to home.
In this episode in the fourth season of Health Matters, three experts discuss how opioids work and why people become addicted to them.
Guests include: Lindsay Gladysz, PharmD, BCPS, an ambulatory care clinical pharmacist for Doylestown Health; Robert Linkenheimer, DO, Medical Director of the Doylestown Hospital Emergency Department, and Michele McGroggan, a Central Bucks school counselor with more than 20 years experience who is also CB South's building coordinator of the Student Assistance Program that identifies At-Risk Students.
What is an opioid?
The episode begins with a look at how opioids work in the body, specifically the brain and spinal cord, to manage pain. Higher doses of opioids trigger dopamine in the brain that causes a feeling of euphoria. That's the "high" that drug users seek.
"The problem is, you require higher and higher dosages to get that same effect of that euphoria," notes Dr. Linkenheimer. "It's not unusual to see people have to keep increasing and increasing to get the same effect."
In the U.S., one-quarter of all patients on long-term pain medications have issues with addiction, Lindsay notes. Patients who can't get a hold of opioid pain medications (prescriptions) may turn to heroin. About 80% of people addicted to heroin started with prescription opiates, according to Dr. Linkenheimer.
Drug dealers often mix other substances with heroin, a major cause of overdose deaths. Fentanyl is a cheap synthetic drug mixed with heroin that is 1,000 times more potent than morphine. These drugs affect the brain its breathing center, causing an overdose death when the body stops breathing.
Treatment and recovery
The panel discusses Naloxone, or Narcan, which reverses the effect of an opiate. In the Emergency Department, Dr. Linkenheimer has seen Narcan bring people back to life following an overdose.
There are also medications used to help addicts with cravings and withdrawal symptoms, including methadone and buprenorphine.
Michele talks about the social and emotional aspects of treatment. Students and faculty at Central Bucks Schools are educated about drug abuse and addiction, says Michele, who elaborates on the ongoing education and conversation.
"It's very real and it happens to the best students and the best people," she adds.
In response to the epidemic
Dr. Linkenheimer discusses Doylestown Hospital's commitment to being a narcotic-responsible hospital, noting that ER physicians have decreased dramatically the amount of narcotics they prescribe, while still properly addressing a patient's pain.
Michele also talks about the Student Assistance Program and the district's partnership with the Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania. The Council works with the district to do assessments, offer help, and serve as a confidential resource for students and families.
The episode concludes by listing several resources, including a phone number to call about properly disposing unused medications: Bucks County Medication Disposal Program (215-444-2740). Also find more information on their website from the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, including a search for drug take-back locations.