Addiction Expert: We Have Never Seen This Type Of Opioid Epidemic

“I can tell you from the standpoint of the healthcare field, we have never seen this type of epidemic at the numbers we see with opiate addiction and heroine,” says Bob Vickrey, Director of the Las Vegas Community Triage Center.

Vickrey has worked with recovering addicts for decades.  In fact, he is a recovered addict himself.

“When I found heroine it changed my life forever — I lost all resemblance of who I was.  I became homeless and helpless.  That is typical of what happens to folks who get caught up in this drug dependence.”

Vickrey considers himself lucky.  When he hit rock bottom he was surrounded by people who wanted to see him get clean.  That was 25 years ago.  Since that time he says he’s “been able to live a wonderful life free of addiction” and he credits WestCare, his now employer, for helping him take his life back.

But things have changed dramatically since the time Vickrey became addicted to heroine.  Today’s addicts, many of them, begin with prescription pain pills and soon find themselves on a slippery slope.

According to a recent article published in LoHud, part of the USA Today network:

From 2000 to 2014, nearly 500,000 people have died from drug overdoses, including nearly 29,000 in 2014 alone. A majority of the deaths involved opioids. Now, the CDC estimates that 78 people are dying every day from an overdose tied to painkillers and heroin. Just last year, that figure stood at 44 deaths per day.

“We know that drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States — and that is a new phenomenon,” according to Vickrey.

In an effort to react to growing concerns about this opioid epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued new guidelines for doctors prescribing pain medication.

The guidelines, aimed at primary care prescribers, state that opioids should not be considered as first-line therapy for chronic pain and that doctors should first consider alternatives such as exercise, meditation, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

“We are experiencing an over-prescribing of pain medication,” VIckrey says. “The prescription painkiller is not always the first remedy.”

It is a tough situation for many doctors who find themselves under increasing pressure from patients seeking pain meds, and from insurance companies not always supportive — or willing to pay for — alternative treatments as a first line of defense.

Still, many in the healthcare and addiction recovery field feel this is a good first step. “I see it as a powerful tool if we can find a way to enforce it,” he says.  “When we have that many people dying everyday because of an overdose, we have to take notice  It’s a crisis, a public health crisis and an epidemic that we all have to go to work on.”