Tess Hemmila—Staff Writer
Opioid addiction has reached an unprecedented level in the United States. This is a national crisis that affects every part of the country, even quiet, small-town Iowa.
This fall President Trump declared the opioid crisis a “public health emergency.” A White House press release on the subject proclaims that “the Trump administration is fighting back” against opioid addiction.
In Iowa, the rise in opioid addiction is well-documented and startling. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the number of opioid treatment admissions went from 608 in 2005 to 2,274 in 2016, the number having more than tripled over an 11-year period.
Nursing professor Deb Bomgaars has worked in the Orange City Area Health System for 33 years. She has worked with multiple patients with opioid addictions, and said, “It’s difficult for medical personal to navigate because we’re taught to believe the patient when they say they are in pain.”
She believes that a major contribution to the opioid crisis may be that many moderate-strength pain relievers have been taken off the market for various reasons.
“Now we just have the choice between Tylenol or a narcotic,” Bomgaars said.
Opioids are defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as “medications that act on opioid receptors in both the spinal cord and the brain to reduce the intensity of pain-signal perception.” The most commonly abused opioids include: heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl, and codeine. These medications are heavily addictive because they not only relieve pain but also activate reward centers in the brain, causing euphoria. In this way, the brain is taught that something good has happened that should be repeated.
Paige Smit, a pharmacist at Sioux Center Health, said “a part of the problem is that people expect chronic pain to be resolved, but in reality, sometimes all we can do is manage it.”
As with other addictions, many addicts overdose on opioids because they build a tolerance, causing them to constantly increase their dosage. According to the CDC, over half a million people died of a drug overdose between 2000 and 2015. Today, 91 Americans die of an opioid overdose daily.
“At this point, it hasn’t had a major impact on our community,” said Sioux Center Police Chief Paul Adkins. “However, this is going to be an issue that we are eventually going to have to address.”