Opioid overdose deaths cause for concern

Published 12:05 pm Saturday, August 28, 2021

As the opioid crisis continues to take lives in Pearl River County, law enforcement officers gathered at First Baptist Church of Picayune to hear a presentation from a representative of the Mississippi Public Health Institute.

Jordan Hillhouse is with MPHI, and gave the presentation Thursday evening to provide additional information about opioids, how they work and why people become addicted to them.

Hillhouse said this county was chosen as a potential place to provide that information due to the high number of opioid deaths that occur in Pearl River County.

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His presentation included a bit of history about opioids and how they affect the human brain.

Opioids have been used by humans as far back as 3000 BCE when the Egyptians used them as a remedy for ailments and as a sleep aid.

Other cultures with recorded use of opioids include Rome (27 BCE), Greece (500 BCE) and even in China (1000 CE).

One natural opioid, heroin, can be found in three common types, a white powder that is thought to be the purest form, a brown powder that is still quite pure but has some additives, and tar, the most potent kind.

Most opioids are either derived from natural sources, such as heroin, or from synthetic sources created in a lab.

Today more powerful variants have been created, such as fentanyl and carfentanil. The problems with the more powerful versions is a lethal dose involves a very small amount of fentanyl and carfentanil.

Opioids all work the same way, by triggering the endorphin reward system in the brain. The problem is opioids over exert that reward system and negatively affect the respiratory system, which is what can kill a person taking the drugs.

Part of the reason for the current opioid problem was the over prescribing of the oxycontin and other variants of opioids by doctors who were told by pharmaceutical companies that their products were not addictive in the 80s and 90s. Those false claims led to lawsuits in the 2000’s and the implementation of stricter policies concerning prescribing the drugs and caused Purdue Pharma to release a tamper resistant variant of oxycontin. Hillhouse said those policies now require doctors to keep a record of opioid prescriptions.

However, overdose deaths from improper use of opioids continue to rise. Hillhouse said that in 2015, overdose deaths outpaced motor vehicle related deaths for the first time, and continue to be the leading cause of accidental deaths to this day.

A recovery group for those dealing with addiction is offered at First Baptist Church of Picayune every Thursday at 6 p.m. The name of the program is STEPS.