Every nine hours and 36 minutes, a Coloradan dies from a drug overdose. This disturbing statistic underlines the rampant opioid abuse in the United States. Poor prescribing habits compounded by the spreading of misinformation has stalled any real progression toward ending this epidemic, experts say.

Inspired by the Dreamland Symposium held on campus last January, the CU Anschutz open chapter of the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) sponsored a seminar on April 25 to help clear common misconceptions regarding opioids. Students, faculty and staff from across campus, including the Graduate School, the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the College of Nursing, attended the event in the Education 2 building.

“We really wanted to educate our peers about the signs of opioid overdose,” Rikki Hanifin said of her involvement in the CU Anschutz chapter of IHI. “It’s so critically important that everyone is familiar with Naloxone, which can literally reverse overdoses,” said Hannifin, a second-year pharmacy student.

Debunking opioid myths

Opioids are a class of narcotics commonly prescribed to reduce pain. They are Schedule II drugs, indicating their accepted medical use with the moderate potential for abuse. However, the public erroneously uses this distinction to assume that opioids are more effective than unscheduled drugs, such as ibuprofen.

“The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) places drugs into schedules,” said Robert Valuck, PhD, during his opening remarks. “It doesn’t evaluate efficacy.”

Valuck went on to debunk several other myths, including the necessity of opioids in medicine. “Six percent of patients who had a surgical procedure, either major or minor, and came into the situation NOT on an opioid, but were prescribed one after the surgical procedure, were still taking them a year later,” he said. “Many of those people, we would presume, have progressed from acute postsurgical pain, to misuse, dependence and possibly addiction.”

Humanizing addiction

Lisa Raville, executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center, said harm-reduction practices are common and should be employed in the opioid-abuse battle. “We wear seat belts, we use designated drivers, and we use nicotine gum to stop smoking. We need to approach opioid abuse in a similar manner.”

Providing addicts access to clean syringes is a good step toward reducing harm, including the spread of other communicable diseases, Raville said of the controversial issue. “We want to help get people back on their feet,” said Raville of rehabilitating users. “If they are infected with HIV or hepatitis C, then they are at that much more of a disadvantage. At the very least, it’s more cost effective to provide clean needles than provide life-long care of disease.”

Naloxone training

The event concluded with a hands-on demonstration on how to administer and obtain Naloxone, a prescription drug that can reverse opioid overdoses.

In Colorado, Naloxone is available at pharmacies without a prescription. Most major insurance companies cover the cost of Naloxone. For more information visit www.stoptheclockcolorado.org.