Washington DC — When you think of all the countless tears shed for the music artist Prince since his death April 21 some are hoping you realize his death is similar to one that hundreds of families across the nation and the DMV experience every year.
On Thursday, an autopsy revealed he died from an overdose of the prescription opiate fentanyl.
“It’s tragic but so are the deaths of everyone from opiate abuse,” said Dr. Mitra Ahadpour with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA.
Ahadpour said the agency is in the middle of a health crisis due to opiate abuse. She said if the numbers weren’t enough the agency also gets letters and phone calls from family members of victims trying to understand the issue.
“Opiate use disorder is a chronic illness like diabetes,” said Ahadpour. “So when they go to their primary care physician they can get screening, counseling and treatment with medication.”
Ahadpour said there are three medications now approved by the FDA to help with opiate abuse.
She said doctors also need to understand the risk of prescribing the powerful pain medication.
“You need to explain to them when you take an opiate there is a risk of addiction and you need to monitor them,” said Ahadpour. “Don’t give them a month of medication, bring them back after a few days. [Evaluate whether] they still need that opiate medication.”
SAMHSA is one of several federal organizations like the Center for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration that have recently made changes to follow President’s Obama’s directive to attack the problem.
SAMHSA is directing more money into regions without enough opiate treatment facilities and bolstering resources in states that already have options to cut down on waiting times for treatment.
The other side of this issue are illegal drug users. Law enforcement agencies across the DMV said they’ve been dealing with a steady rise in overdose deaths for more than a year.
In Fairfax County, police said over the past 5 days they’ve investigated 4 overdose cases. Last year , they counted 77 cases and 12 deaths.
Lt. James Cox said one problem is that many people are not able to scrutinize what is inside each bag they buy and ingest. He said if there is too much fentanyl in a bag the dose can be lethal.
“It is an epidemic and we really need people to understand how dangerous this activity is,” said Cox.
To that end, the Fairfax County Police Department will host a second town hall on the heroin problem in our area June 14 at Centreville High School.