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The opioid epidemic is considered the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history. The Trump Administration recently declared a public health emergency to deal with the epidemic. In Nevada, opioid overdoses were the leading cause of drug-related deaths in 2015. According to the National Vital Statistics System, 619 Nevadans died of a drug overdose that year and 68% of those deaths were from opioids.In this series, Reno Public Radio’s health reporter Anh Gray tours a treatment facility, and talks with substance abuse experts, patients and others to get the scope of the problem and explore some solutions.

5 Things To Know About Nevada's Opioid Crisis

Krysta Scripter

The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug overdose crisis in modern U.S. history. Here are 5 things you should know.

1.)    Opioids are a class of drugs that includes potent pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and others. These drugs are available legally by prescription. Illegal forms of opioids includes heroin, and a synthetic form, fentanyl.


2.)    In 2015, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 2 million people in the United States were battling prescription opioid-related substance abuse disorders.


3.)    Nationally, the prescription rate for opioids is 66.5 per 100 people. Nevada is significantly higher compared to the national rate at 87.5 prescriptions per 100 residents statewide. Addiction to opioids typically begins with people taking prescription painkillers that are received legally for medical conditions, injuries, or after surgeries. In 2017, the Nevada Legislature passed Assembly Bill 474, known as the Controlled Substances Abuse Prevention Act. The bill takes effect at the start of 2018. The new law requires that prescribers administer a risk assessment to patients prior to prescribing opioids. The law also creates a database. Opioid providers are required to register with the state and to report overdoses.


4.)    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2000 to 2015, more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. The CDC reports that it’s critical to expand access to evidence-based treatments to help people battling addiction. Effective treatments include Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT). MAT uses medication like methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat opioid addiction.


5.)    According to a study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, less than half of privately-funded substance use disorder treatment programs offer MAT and only a third of patients with opioid dependence at these programs actually receive it. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that MAT decreases opioid use, opioid-related deaths, criminal activity, and the transmission of infectious disease. Patients in MAT are more likely to remain in therapy compared to patients in treatment that do not include medication.


Mark Disselkoen is a licensed social worker and an alcohol and drug counselor. He’s also the project manager at the Center for the Application of Substance Abuse Technologies based at the University of Nevada, Reno. KUNR's Anh Gray interviews him to learn more about the state's opioid problems and discuss treatment options.

Disselkoen says the high number of people with opioid addictions is a result of the widespread use of prescription medications.

“One of the issues is that prescription medications are actually easy to access,” Disselkoen explains. “The number one place that individuals access prescription medications and misuse them is in the home, from their mom, dad, grandparents, your friend’s parents.

Using opioids can trigger the brain to release dopamine, creating a sense of euphoria. Disselkoen explains that once a user stops, intense craving can kick-in making it difficult to quit.

“Withdraw syndrome of an opioid is very uncomfortable and that will cause an individual to seek the drug again when they start to feel like they’re having the flu-like symptoms,” Disselkoen says. “So the craving for an opioid is very significant and severe.”

Research shows that Medicine-Assisted Treatment is more effective in preventing relapse than counseling alone.

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