Written by Heather Rudulph | CNN
Starting in mid-June, Alex Hoffarth started noticing the influx of patients who had trouble breathing. Nearly all of them were suffering from pneumonia or bacterial pneumonia. Some had a history of breathing problems. They were being admitted with pneumonia usually caused by the addition of oxycodone to their prescriptions. The families of patients were worried.
Hoffarth, a spokeswoman for the University of Michigan Health System, recounted that the hospital saw a significant rise in the number of patients who had been prescribed oxycodone and then died of pneumonia. Hoffarth noticed that many of the patients who died were first admitted to the hospital with respiratory complications.
The trend in emergency room deaths began in early June, after the departure of John “Josh” Manes from the hospital to work for a food truck for $10 an hour. The pharmacy technician was later criminally charged with pushing the dosage of oxycodone through the system, as a simple pill containing a small amount of the opioid was in the medication container.
At some point, approximately 10,000 prescriptions for oxycodone and hydrocodone-acetaminophen and 625 prescriptions for oxycodone-acetaminophen were written and dispensed in the names of patients who were hospitalized with either pneumonia or fatal acute respiratory failure.
According to a comprehensive study of the use of fentanyl in emergency departments published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, on average, between 1998 and 2016, 140 lives were lost to opioids in every 24 minutes.
The study showed that the total number of prescriptions for fentanyl used in emergency departments increased by 300% from 2008 to 2015.
In October, 40 people in Michigan died after oxycodone was administered to them.
The severity of this problem is just one more example of the opioid epidemic wreaking havoc in communities across the country, impacting the lives of parents, children, neighbors and friends.
The risks of a fentanyl overdose are such that it’s best left to a medical professional rather than a recreational user. Many users of the drug are using it because it seems to be as much of a high as heroin, without the side effects that come from the potential buildup of metal and other substances in the body. The patch style is also widely available, with people spreading the drug around in the community, as well as with pills bought on the street.
Fentanyl is most commonly taken in pill form, but the patches on many people’s skin can also be used to obtain the drug.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced the addition of fentanyl and two other drugs to the list of controlled substances, meaning drug traffickers could be prosecuted if they possess, manufacture, distribute or deliver them.
Medicine cabinets in Michigan, at any given time, are probably filled with medicine, many of which is not prescribed. But with many of the drugs associated with drug abuse coming from medical and health professionals and legitimate business owners, many members of these communities are left confused about what to do with it when they become curious.
Now that the danger of the fentanyl patches and pills is more widely known, how do people with legitimate access to pain medication, which in some cases can include the misuse of these medications, protect themselves against overdose?