Health Care Panel Discusses Effective Ways to Combat Opioid Crisis

Experts from emergency medicine, pharmacy and mental health talked with Dr. Stuart Flynn, dean of the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine, at the annual Health Care Forum.

A nasal spray of the drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan, can instantly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and save someone’s life.

Overdoses are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S., said Stuart Flynn, dean of the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine, who moderated a panel of three experts for the annual Health Care Forum presented by the TCU Neeley School of Business, TCU Health Care MBA, and the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine.

“It is the leading cause and number one preventable killer,” he told an audience of more than 300.

There were more than 64,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2016. This year’s Health Care Forum at TCU centered on opioid abuse to raise awareness and address the opioid epidemic in the DFW community.

According to Charles Taylor, dean of the UNT System College of Pharmacy and a panelist at the forum, Americans consume 80 percent of the world’s supply of opioids, yet they make up only 4.6 percent of the world population.

“Narcan is one of the key things to addressing the epidemic,” said panelist and opioid research expert Glen Hardesty, D.O. Emergency Medicine for Texas Health Resources. “It is a lifesaver like glucose is to a diabetic,” he said.

Carol Nati, medical director of MHMR of Tarrant County and a member of the panel, demonstrated to the crowd just how easy it is to administer Narcan as she injected herself with the harmless antidote on stage.

When someone shows the symptoms of an overdose – unresponsive, paleness and pin-point pupils – Narcan can get them breathing. The drug has no negative effects if the person has not overdosed, as Nati demonstrated.

People typically take prescription opioids for relief from short-term pain. The drugs work by triggering the pleasure center in the brain causing euphoria, decreasing anxiety and reducing pain, Nati said. But tolerance builds quickly, leading to addiction, doctor shopping or using illegal drugs.

“Someone who starts out taking one or two pills a day needs 10 pills four times a day,” Nati said.

Today there are 2 million opioid addicts in the United States. The economic burden nationwide is estimated at $78 billion.

One of the goals to address the epidemic is to flood the community with Naloxone, Nati said.

Barriers to getting Naloxone, such as cost and stigma, need to be removed, Taylor said.

The panelists emphasized that people should also know what to do if they suspect someone has overdosed.

Call 911 first, administer Narcan if you have it – the person will still need immediate medical help even if revived with Naloxone – and don’t waste time on folklore that suggests an ice bath will help.

“Nothing is further from the truth,” Hardesty said. “If you put someone in an ice bath and then bring them to the hospital 45 minutes later, I can’t help them.”