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Community leaders work to combat opioid addiction in Nevada

Opioid Prescribing Guidelines
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File

FILE - This June 17, 2019, file photo shows 5-mg pills of Oxycodone.

More than 20 years ago, in 1999, the rate of people who died of drug overdoses in Nevada and its neighboring state of California were roughly the same.

Then things began to change.

Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show that by 2015, Nevada’s rate of overdose deaths was almost twice as high as California’s.

In 2020, Nevada’s rate was about 20% higher.

California was catching up. But we use California as a comparison because some presume drug abuse there is worse than in Nevada. The comparison demonstrates something quite different.

Recently, four pharmaceutical companies agreed in a settlement to pay $26 billion to 46 states.

Several programs in Nevada seek to help those in need and to make changes in law enforcement.

Ron Schnese, who is the community outreach specialist for Foundation For Recovery, said individuals can come to them directly for intramuscular and intranasal Narcan and naloxone.

Just last year, “we had given out 900 doses of Narcan, just at our trainings alone,” he said.

What’s causing the increase of overdoses? Schnese says the pandemic played a role, but it’s a “confluence of situations that brought us to this point. … Isolation is a major trigger. … Isolation tends to, shall we say, let the demon out of the head. Our thoughts can get run away with us.”

Most people are introduced to opioids in medical settings, he says.

“Opioids are not bad. They serve a purpose for people in chronic pain, they serve a purpose for a time. Now, if that is not monitored closely by the person’s prescriber, their primary care doctor, their pain management doctor, whoever they’re going to see, it’s easy for the dependence to be created and substance use disorder is able to follow that. And then you have someone who’s hooked on painkillers.”

Schnese said information is key to recovery.

“Community relations, less stigmatization for people with substance use disorder. You know, healthy, sober things for them to do. Here a foundation for recovery. That's one of the things we focus on is holistically, helping people heal not just for a recovery pathway, but also learning healthier coping mechanisms, practicing our therapies, helping them get back to work, helping them build their own community of support,” he said.

Andria Peterson is the executive director for Empowered, a program under Roseman University that targets opioid use disorder in pregnant and postpartum moms.

“Women of childbearing age in Nevada, from January of 2018 to November 2021, we saw a 9.5% increase in all drug-related overdose emergency room visits for women of childbearing age,” she said. “When we talk about neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is withdrawal that's coming, you know, from drug use that occurs during pregnancy.”

She said they use scoring systems and monitor their signs and symptoms of withdrawal in infants. From there, they treat as needed, but she says the infants in withdrawal do suffer otherwise.

Supporting the infants’ mothers is also a part of that help.

“It’s really important to really just look at substance use disorder as any type of a chronic disease state. And we all know, someone who has been recently diagnosed with diabetes, and you're looking at how overwhelming that can be to go to a dietitian and get your medications and learn how to use with medications. If you're on insulin, it's a lot,” she said. “And so, it's the same thing with substance use disorder, it's a lot to be able to navigate them. So Empowered specializes in helping these pregnant individuals navigate that recovery. We do an individualized comprehensive assessment, and we determine what their needs are. Because every single patient, every single woman, and family has a different set of needs.”

The help from Roseman is grant-funded and free to those who need it.

Drugs and alcohol are “too easy to obtain,” says Las Vegas attorney Jim Jimmerson, whose 25-year-old son died of a drug overdose in 2019. He’s also a board member for Victoria’s Voice Foundation.

"It irrevocably changes your life," he says about losing his son, who "was a beautiful boy. ... Where do you go from there? … I do think there are common signs. ... [My son] probably began alcohol abuse as a teenager, then moved into prescription medicine. It's all too easy to obtain."

He said parents should be present, and not afraid to talk to their children about substance abuse.

For more information on Victoria's Voice, click here. For more on Foundation for Recovery, click here. For Empowered Moms, click here.

Andria Peterson, executive director, EMPOWERED;  Jim Jimmerson, board member, Victoria’s Voice Foundation; Ron Schnese, community outreach specialist, Foundation For Recovery  

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Zachary Green is the Coordinating Producer and a Reporter for KNPR's State of Nevada Program. He reports on Clark County, minority affairs, health, real estate, business, and gardening. You'll occasionally hear Zachary Green reporting and fill-in hosting on the State of Nevada program.