Wellness Wednesday: How to fight the ongoing opioid epidemic

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'Asking for help is a strength': How to fight the ongoing opioid epidemic
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Today is the fifth anniversary of Prince's death. We know that Prince tragically died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl at the age of 57. Today, we're going to celebrate Prince's life and legacy through his music. We're going to celebrate how he lived and what he created what he contributed to our world.

But I don't want to shy away from the circumstances of his death, because I don't want to add to the stigma of opioid addiction. I don't want to sweep this under the rug, what led to Prince's death, because I don't feel that it's a shameful secret — and I believe that today is an opportunity to educate and provide resources to those who still suffer and may wish to seek help.

I do have some help with this segment for Wellness Wednesday: Manuel Garcia is the outpatient program supervisor at Hazelden Betty Ford.

Every Wednesday morning at 8:30 CST, Jill Riley connects with experts and local personalities for some real talk about keeping our minds and bodies healthy — from staying safe in the music scene, to exercising during a pandemic, to voting and civic engagement. Looking for more resources and support? Visit our friends at Call to Mind, MPR's initiative to foster new conversations about mental health. Subscribe to Wellness Wednesday as a podcast on Spotify, Apple, RSS, Radio Public, Stitcher, or Amazon Music.

Jill Riley: You know, this is a topic that we have covered a handful of times here on Wellness Wednesday on The Current Morning Show. But it's the kind of topic that I think requires ongoing conversation. And so we really want to talk about the epidemic of opioid overdose in this country, but really here in Minnesota, specifically. So I guess my first question is, you know, what's happening with the opioid overdose epidemic? What kind of trends are you seeing?

Manuel Garcia: The most recent data from the CDC shows an estimated 87,000 overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in September of 2020. Unfortunately, this was yet another record high, and that being said illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the primary drivers.

Can you tell us a little more about the synthetic drugs or even the so called counterfeit drugs?

Absolutely. So a synthetic drug is, for example fentanyl, which was actually a medication that was created to treat pain and cancer patients. And when we talk about counterfeit drugs, they are drugs that are advertised as something that they are not, it is extremely dangerous as you never know what you're getting. And the results can be potentially lethal as we continue to see with some unfortunate rise in overdose deaths.

What are some more of the issues and challenges that are contributing to all of this?

Fentanyl seems readily available and very cheap and common. Instead of wondering whether pills might have fentanyl and then people now are buying them illicitly today pretty much knowing that that's what they're getting. So for example, Prince reportedly died from counterfeit drugs, those that contained or weren't cut with fentanyl but weren't advertised by the seller as containing fentanyl, which is a very dangerous thing. People may try to moderate how much they take. However, it is impossible to know how potent they will be. They may try to moderate, yet people who have substance use disorders aren't the best at moderating, which is the nature of the disease. So unfortunately, using has become riskier than ever. And unfortunately, Prince's tragic story was one of more to come. For example, Lil Peep and Juice WRLD: two incredibly talented young minds that we lost way too early as a result of this epidemic. The opioid epidemic is taking lives too early, too fast.

When it comes to substance use disorder, how is opioid addiction treated — as opposed to alcohol? What does the recovery process look like there?

For example, Hazelden Betty Ford is offering COR-12 services on all of our locations. This is our comprehensive opioid response, and the number 12 comes from the 12-step program of recovery. We also need to, however, continue broadening the focus beyond opioids. The majority of people who have substance use disorders use multiple substances, and also have co-occurring mental health concerns. That means having a substance use disorder and a mental health concern at the same time. Now, when opioids are involved, addiction comes with extra risk due to how lethal a small dose can be. But it's substance use disorders that is the root problem, often complicated by co-occurring conditions. So even if you take opioids out of the mix, the big issues are still there to address.

We also need to remember that alcohol is by far the most accessible, affordable, and socially accepted drug. Alcohol use disorders negatively impact far more lives than any others. It is often accompanied by other substance use and mental health concerns as well. So we have to look at all of these issues together.

Are there some things that we've learned maybe in this past year? Are there some silver linings here? Is there optimism for the future of treating this?

100%. The most important message that I'm hoping that our listeners are going to get from our conversation is that there is hope. Treatment and recovery do work. For example, stigma is still a problem, especially in our institutions. However, one positive resulting from the pandemic has been that people now understand isolation, and what those suffering from substance use disorders feel empathy is growing.

Also, Hazelden Betty Ford, we have expanded access to help. Since March of last year, we have switched all of our patients who were attending outpatient group therapy to our recovery goal virtual platform. And one thing that is great is our Butler Research Center now shows virtual treatment is working well. it's here to stay and helping us reach a lot more people that may not have had access before. Also, most insurance companies cover treatment and other reason. professional care and support is more accessible than ever. As I said before, there is hope and treatment and recovery do work.

What can folks do? If somebody is listening right now thinking, "You know what, I might need some help," or "I need to talk to someone," or if somebody is listening knowing that a loved one could use help and that they're struggling?

Millions of people, including many in the music community, are living proof and are ready to help. For anyone listening. I would say If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, or know someone that is please reach out to someone anyone asked for help. People can reach Hazelden Betty Ford through our website at HazeldenBettyFord.org. Or you can call 1-800-I-DO-CARE. However, the most important thing is: asking for help is a strength. Reach out if you need support.


Wellness Wednesday is hosted by Jill Riley, and produced by Anna Weggel and Jay Gabler. Our theme music is a portion of the song "F.B. One Number 2" by Christian Bjoerklund under the Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 International License.


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