Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem across the country, particularly the abuse of opioids. Opioids are a classification of commonly prescribed painkillers such as hydrocodone or oxycodone. There is a mistaken assumption that prescription drugs are safer than illicit drugs because they are legally prescribed, but taking a drug without a doctor’s oversight can cause major problems.

Opioids are highly addictive and it’s easy to develop a tolerance, which means more of the drug is required to cause the same effects. This can lead to accidental overdose and nationally, these accidental overdoses have become an epidemic in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, opioids (including prescription medications and heroin) killed 33,000 people, more than any year on record. Nearly half of all opioid deaths involve a prescription opioid. As this epidemic rises, preventionists, physicians and researchers are working diligently to identify the most effective methods to prevent and reduce both opioid abuse and unintentional overdose deaths.

One of those methods is an opioid-overdose reversal medication called Naloxone or Narcan. When a person overdoses on an opioid, their breathing and pulse slow, leading to brain damage or death. A dose of Naloxone stops those effects for 60 to 90 minutes by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors and essentially switching them off. Naloxone doesn’t stop the overdose, but it helps the person to survive until emergency care can be administered. If the person is mistakenly given the medication in the misdiagnosis of an overdose, they will not experience any negative side effects.

Naloxone is only available by prescription, but in 2015 the Texas Legislature passed a law that allowed doctors to write a “standing order” allowing anyone access to this lifesaving medication. Due to this lifesaving legislation, Naloxone is now available without an individual prescription at Walgreens, CVS and Kroger stores across Texas. This is an important resource for family members who are concerned about a loved one’s use of prescription painkillers.

For more information about Naloxone and how this lifesaving medicine works, visit www.texasoverdosenaloxoneinitiative.com. This intervention has saved many lives across the nation and is just one way our community is battling the opioid epidemic.

To learn more or get involved in helping to prevent prescription drug abuse and overdose, join Galveston County Community Coalition of the Bay Area Council on Drugs and Alcohol. Contact coalitions@bacoda.org or visit www.bacoda.org for more information.

Jennifer Newton is the communications coordinator for BACODA.

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