Prescription medications like Oxycontin, Vicodin, or codeine, heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids, have saturated the markets in the North Dakota pharmacies and on the streets. These narcotics are easily and readily available in particular because so many of the drugs are acquired through a pain prescription from the person’s trusted physician. Citizens of The Peace Garden State are struggling with opioid addiction more than ever. But even though opioid addiction is very dangerous, there is hope in drug addiction recovery treatment.
Usage In North Dakota Compared To US Average
When it comes to averages, it’s important to understand that it’s not necessarily an acceptable number or a terrible number. When comparing averages, it’s also important to understand that having a more respectable number in context to other numbers does not mean they are good numbers by definition. With that said, North Dakota’s opioid usage rates, both legal and illegal, are noticeably lower than the national average. The US prescription rate of opioids is going down as is North Dakota’s and the state’s rates have been consistently blow the US average. Of prescriptions given out, for every 100, about 66.5 are for an opioid of some kind. North Dakota averages 47.8. Prescription addiction has been recently noticed as a problematic public health concern and helps increase the demand for heroin when the addiction is allowed to continue for too long.
This trend has proven to have some real world examples in North Dakota. Recently, headlines were pointing out very steep increase in heroin overdose deaths. This seems to suggest that the prescription-to-heroin pipeline concern has merit. While the numbers are extremely low compared to the US national average, even one death should be considered too many.
Actual Numbers In North Dakota
Newspapers sensationally reported on a ‘1000% Increase in Heroin Overdose Deaths’ in 2016. While they weren’t wrong, the number suggests a far more serious problem than the actual number suggest. In reality, it’s a wake up call to pay attention to your own habits and being concerned for those around you before irreversible damage happens as a result of their opioid addiction.
The raw numbers that were being referred to by these headlines hoping to get the state to be proactive instead of reactive were the increase from 4 deaths per year to 14 the following year. While these numbers aren’t impressive, the spike is. If this trend were to continue, in two years time, you have over one hundred thousand deaths. Considering that North Dakota’s prescription opioid use rate is not significantly lower than the national average, then it reflects the increase in usage promoting addiction which turned into a heroin addiction and lags behind the increase of prescription drug usage by three to four years which means these numbers have a very good chance of continuing to increase if the history of prescription use is of any indication.
Heroin vs. Prescriptions In North Dakota
While the numbers of heroin overdoses are less than 15, if there is to be a prevention of overdose that’s effective, then it must be assumed that for every overdose, there’s an unknown number of other users of heroin and countless more who are just being prescribed their first opioid painkiller.
North Dakota is one of the states to adopt a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) which allows signs of possible addiction or illicit sales to have a higher likelihood of being discovered before it translates into a heroin death down the road. North Dakota’s statistics suggest some of the effectiveness of such a program; nearly all states without a form of prescription monitoring have higher rates of overdose and hospitalizations from use.
Of particular note, prescription drug use among minors has been on a general decline and remains as it has for a while below the national averages. Of the minors known to be using illicit substances, only 14.5% using something heavier than tobacco, alcohol or marijuana. If it reflects adult usage, then it’s assumed that less than 1% of are using prescription opioids or heroin.
Fentanyl in North Dakota
Fentanyl has become the latest chapter of nationally on-going story of opioid abuse and addiction stories. It is a synthetic and very potent form of opioid which is typically 50-100 times stronger than morphine or heroin. Users that are not aware of this difference are at an extremely high risk of overdose as they overestimate how much they may use. Others users find out they take it the hard way when it is mixed with other drugs like heroin or even cocaine. Users that aren’t expecting fentanyl are not going to ‘be careful’ to make sure they don’t use the one grain it takes to cause an overdose. Victims of overdose who use heroin are often times found with a needle still in their arm because of the speed with which fentanyl killed them.
The state of North Dakota has indeed seen a few instances of fentanyl show up in drug investigations and overdose cases. Currently, there is not enough specialized data around it to give hard numbers about it’s usage. It’s safe to assume that because of the low usage of opioids in general throughout North Dakota, that there are relatively few fentanyl users as a result.
Treatment Center Status in North Dakota
As of 2017, only 36.7% of substance abuse facilities in North Dakota offer any type of pharmacotherapy. Pharmacotherapy is the use of addition drugs in treating overdoses, addiction or both. Drugs like naloxone are designed to negate the direct effects of heroin use which cause overdose death and other drugs target minimizing withdrawal symptoms such as fever, cold chills, etc. Hospitals are increasingly adding counter-active agent medications to their range of treatments, but the adoption has also been relatively slow as compared to the rest of the country. With the recent uptick of heroin overdoses, the outfitting of medical facilities with life saving medications might become a higher priority.
Treatment for prescription opioid addiction is less likely to require the use of pharmacotherapy and rely more on behavioral therapy and related treatments. Most treatment facilities are well equipped to handle such a level of addictive behavior. For stronger heroin and fentanyl usage that may require pharmacotherapy, it may require lengthy searching and traveling to get that kind of care.