The opioid crisis has swept across the nation at an alarming rate. Drug abuse, dependence and overdose are issues that affect the lives of millions of Americans. Given the severity of the opioid crisis in the United States, action must be taken at multiple levels to stop the devastating consequences. One of those steps is education. 

The fact sheet, “The Opioid Crisis: What You Need to Know,” written by Erin Yelland, assistant professor and extension specialist at Kansas State University, will discuss what opioids are, which opioids are most commonly abused and why, the risks associated with abusing opioids and who is most vulnerable to an opioid addiction, the signs of an opioid addiction and overdose, how to respond to an opioid overdose, how to safely store and dispose of opioid medications, and steps individuals and communities can take to address the opioid crisis.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include powerful prescription pain relievers and the illegal drug heroin.

According to the CDC, from 1999 to 2015, the amount of prescription opioids dispensed in the United States nearly quadrupled, yet there has been no verifiable change in the amount of pain that Americans report. Alongside the increased prescribing rates has come a dramatic increase in prescription opioid misuse, abuse, overdoses and deaths. Many individuals who misuse prescription opioids may eventually turn to the less expensive and easier to obtain substitute, heroin.

In addition to the risk of abuse, addiction and overdose, prescription opioids can have numerous side effects, even when taken as directed, including abnormal pain sensitivity, sleepiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth and severe constipation.

The side effects of opioids are similar for people of all ages, but the older adult population is at a greater risk for experiencing these side effects given the natural aging process and the fact that many older adults take multiple medications per day. A recent CDC report showed that 57 percent of older adults take five or more medications per day. Taking more than one medication per day increases the risk of potentially harmful drug interactions, which could cause dangerous side effects. In addition, the ability of the liver and kidney to filter medicine out of someone’s system becomes less effective with age, putting the aging population at risk for more harmful side effects at lower doses. 

If you would like to learn more and obtain a copy of “The Opioid Crisis: What You Need to Know,” please stop by the K-State Research and Extension – Leavenworth County office, 613 Holiday Plaza in Lansing, or contact me at chelsim@ksu.edu or by phone at 913-364-5700. 

Chelsi Myer is a family and consumer sciences agent for K-State Research and Extension – Leavenworth County.