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Efforts To Stem Opioid Addiction


Addiction to opioids is a problem facing both patients here in Southern Nevada and across the country.

The National Safety Council estimates a vast majority of doctors overprescribe the medications, which can lead to a cascade of problems later on.

Deborah Hersman is the president of the National Safety Council. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that 18,000 people died from unintentional overdoses of prescription pain killers last year. 

She also said that most first time heroin users start with prescription pain killers. 

Hersman said it took decades for opioid addiction to take hold and it will take decades for the country to get out of it. She believes starting at the front of the process will help.

“You have to educate people," she said, "You have to get the prescribing guidelines addressed for chronic pain and acute pain, which is something that we’re working on now.”

For instance, Hersman said instead of prescribing 30 days of a pain killer like oxycodone after oral surgery just one to two days worth is needed.

She also advocated a prescription drug monitoring system so addicts can't shop around to different doctors to get multiple prescriptions. 

On the back end, Hersman said there should be more access to naloxone, which is a drug that can stop and reverse a drug overdose.

She also believes doctors should be screening patients before prescribing drugs, looking for indicators that someone might be at a higher risk addiction. 

Doctors should also be offering other drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen instead of opioids, she said. They should also be telling patients to use the smallest dose for the shortest amount of time. 

Hersman said that there are times when opioids are the best option, but that patients need to be aware of the risks. 

“There are times when opioids are appropriate," she said, "So, it's not saying, ‘don’t prescribe them at all,’ it's just making sure that people understand what the side effects and the risks are.”

Deborah Hersman, president, National Safety Council

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)