Editorial: Death has no second chance; we must fight opioid crisis

Opioids, a class of drug used to reduce pain, are killing us.

Across the country, more than 1,000 people a day are into emergency rooms. North Carolina continues to dubiously rank near the top 10 for prescription rates, the Center for Disease and Control website says. In Bladen County, per capita, we’re near the top 15 of 100 counties in the state when comparing unintentional opioid-related deaths.

“It’s everywhere” is not just a phrase aimlessly thrown around to scare or spur to action. It’s truth. Five counties in the state had less than five deaths from 2012 to 2016. We were not one of them.

Opioids, says the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, “reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect the brain areas controlling emotion and breathing. Depending on how much you take and how you take them, if your body has more opioids than it can handle, there can be serious risks and side effects.”

Some are prescription medications. Examples are morphine, with the brand name MS Contin; codeine; hydrocodone, in brand names Vicodin and Norco; oxycodone, in brand names Percocet and OxyContin; oxymorphone, in brand name Opana; buprenorphine, in brand name Subutex; and methadone.

Others include synthetic fentanyl and heroin, two that are illegal.

Prescription drugs, the DHHS says, have been “a major driver of the opioid epidemic.” Criminal activity — prescription medications are often a target of thieves — is a multiplier.

Those who would never want to harm themselves and those looking for the next high, together, have pushed statistics. One stat doesn’t change: no second chances on death.

So what can we do?

Events like Friday on the courthouse lawn are a good step. Awareness is pivotal, and that doesn’t just include anyone with a prescription. We also need to be able to recognize those around us with a problem.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a five-point strategy: better data; better pain treatment; more addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services; more overdose reversers; and better research.

North Carolina’s DHHS has a seven-point action plan in effect for 2017-21: coordinating the state’s infrastructure to tackle the opioid crisis; reducing the oversupply of prescription opioids; reducing the diversion of prescription drugs and the flow of illicit drugs; increasing community awareness and prevention; making naloxone widely available; expanding treatment and recovery systems of care; and measuring the effectiveness of these strategies based on results.

All are good. They’re not enough without all of us doing our part.

Treatment providers, syringe exchange providers and resources to help yourself or a loved one are listed at ncdhhs.gov.

Our state lost 12,000 people to opioid-related overdoses from 1999 to 2016.

We’ve got to stop opioids from killing us.