Battling the Opioid Epidemic in Nebraska
Nebraska is not immune to the opioid crisis sweeping across America, leaving millions of people struggling with an addiction to powerful painkillers.
Opioids are a class of drugs that specifically bind to the opioid receptors in a person’s brain. These receptors respond to chemicals like endorphins, which help reduce pain and create a sense of pleasure. Opioids include heroin, methadone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. Prescription opioids are used to help with serious pain that patients experience after dental procedures or surgery. But these drugs are highly addictive, and when prescribed for minor pain or in too high a dose, disaster results.
The Opioid Crisis in America
Although news outlets have been talking about the “opioid crisis” for some time now, it’s hard to fully grasp how bad things have become. There were over 33,000 deaths in the U.S. due to legal and illegal opioids in 2015. Of those deaths, more than 15,000 of them were due to prescription opioids, acquired either legally or illegally. That’s 15,000 deaths caused by drugs that were not smuggled illegally into the country, but produced by pharmaceutical companies and made available to the public. Oxycodone, which includes OxyContin, and hydrocodone, such as Vicodin, are among the most popular legal forms of opioids.
In 2016, about 214 million prescriptions for opioids were written in the U.S. For reference, there were about 245 million adults in the country in 2014. That means there were nearly as many opioid prescriptions written as there are adult men and women in the U.S. That is why it is called a crisis.
The Opioid Crisis in Nebraska
In 2015, there were 55 opioid deaths in Nebraska alone. While that might pale compared to a state like California or New York, the numbers are moving in the wrong direction. As a result, state legislators have been working on laws to control the prescriptions Nebraska doctors can write for opioids. In addition, Nebraska Senator Merv Riepe of Ralston has been asked to join a national panel examining solutions to the opioid crisis. Any information he gains, he declared, will be used to help Nebraskans battle this crisis.
The Trap of Opioid Addiction
It can be difficult to understand the torment of addiction, especially if you have never experienced it yourself. Many people hear about someone suffering from addiction and suggest he or she just stop taking the drugs. But addiction is categorized as a disease because it actually alters the way a person’s brain functions over time—opioid addiction in particular.
Once a person takes opioids for a while (or for a relatively short time, if at a high dose), the opioid receptors of his or her brain are changed. Telling an addict to just “get over it” is like telling a cancer patient to “get over it” without medical attention, and we would never do that. Prescription addicts often began taking opioids for legitimate medical reasons, then became addicted before they even realized it.
Just as state legislators are taking action, you too can take action if your loved one is suffering from opioid addiction. Contact the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services, particularly the Behavioral Health division, for more information. They can point you to a local substance abuse treatment center and help you find support.
In recent years, doctors who have over-prescribed opioids have been punished with criminal charges and the loss of their medical licenses. You may be able to hold a doctor liable in a civil court for prescribing an excessive dose of opioid painkillers that hurt your loved one, because unnecessarily prescribing this dangerous drug can be medical malpractice. Manufacturers who falsely marketed these dangerous medications, concealed the truth, or failed to appropriately warn about their addictive and dangerous characteristics, may also be liable.
For a free consultation with an experienced Omaha medical malpractice attorney, contact Bottlinger Law L.L.C. at (402) 505-8234.
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