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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)– Opioid addiction is a nationwide crises that continues to grow.
Georgia lawmakers, though, are working to end the epidemic.
Governor Nathan Deal signed three pieces of legislation earlier this month that could help.
Prescription opioids, better known as pain pills, were created to alleviate extreme pain. Little did we know, something meant for good can have extreme consequences for some people.
Two doctors break down that facts of opioid abuse and what we need to combat it.
“We didn’t recognize at the time how addictive some of these substances are that meant well. We love getting people out of pain, especially if it’s a temporary thing,” Dr. Mark Newton said. He works in the emergency room at Doctor’s Hospital, and is also a Georgia State Representative.
He said opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 2000.
“Opioids kill more than cocaine, ecstasy, crack, methamphetamine together,” Dr. Newton said.
He said three new laws recently signed by Governor Nathan Deal are a step in the right direction. The first law makes Narcan, an emergency treatment for opioid overdose, available to everyone– not just Paramedics.
The second piece of legislation calls for tighter regulations on addiction treatment centers. The third law requires physicians to better research patient prescription history.
“We did pass a requirement for physicians when they’re prescribing strong medications for pain, which is important, but at the same time that we would check a database first to make sure they haven’t been getting prescriptions from too many different sources,” Dr. Newton said.
Dr. William Jacobs, Chief of Addiction at G.R.U., said prescription pain pills are just the start.
“85% of the people that I see who are using heroin started on prescription opioids, so prescription opioids are the gateway to heroin,” Dr. Jacobs said.
He explained when addicts can no longer get opioids from a prescriber, they go to the street.
Dr. Jacobs said if a person is using 3-400 milligrams of oxycodone a day to stay out of withdrawals, it can cost up to $400.
“Drug dealers know this. They have a supply of heroin as well. They say, ‘Here some heroine. You can have 6 hits of heroine for what one hit of oxycodone will cost you. What do you want to do?” Dr. Jacobs said.
He said it’s crucial family members who know a loved one struggling with opioid addiction can obtain the now legal Narcan for emergencies and potentially save a life.
After suffering from a stroke, Dyanna Hurley began to experience episodes of sudden, frequent and uncontrollable crying and laughing that did not match how she was feeling. Dyanna had already stopped working as a traditional nurse due to struggles with the right side of her body following the stroke, and because of the crying and laughing episodes, she began to notice changes in aspects of her personal life as well.
She began to enjoy her weekly dinners with her friend less because she felt like everyone was looking at her when she was having a PBA episode, and it made her feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. Though she did not know what was wrong, she knew something was going on and that she was not getting the answers she needed.
About a year after her stroke, Dyanna asked her primary care physician to send her to a neurologist, who diagnosed Dyanna with PseudoBulbar Affect (PBA), which can occur secondary to neurologic conditions such as stroke.
What is PBA?
PBA is a distinct condition that can happen to people after they suffer from a traumatic brain injury or neurologic condition such as stroke. It results in sudden, frequent and uncontrollable episodes of crying and/or laughing that don’t match how a person feels.i It affects about two million people in the U.S. who suffer from common neurologic diseases or brain injury, and can affect men and women.ii
Who is diagnosed with PBA?
Conditions or injuries that can lead to PBA include stroke; traumatic brain injury (TBI); Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia; multiple sclerosis (MS); Parkinson’s; or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. These conditions or brain injury can affect the signals that tell a person’s body when or how much to cry or laugh. This can trigger episodes of crying and/or laughing that are sudden and exaggerated (more intense or lasting longer than expected) or mismatched (not fitting the situation).i
Because people who have had a stroke or who are living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, TBI, MS, Parkinson’s or ALS are focused on managing these conditions, symptoms of PBA are often overlooked or mischaracterized as depression. Additionally, the way people with PBA describe episodes may sound similar to symptoms of depression. However, PBA and depression are two separate conditions. While these conditions can often coexist—meaning some people can have both PBA and depression—both conditions are manageable and should be independently diagnosed.i
When she was diagnosed, Dyanna felt relieved to finally have a name for the symptoms she was experiencing. Before receiving the PBA diagnosis, Dyanna’s family thought these episodes were her way of seeking attention, and it was hard for Dyanna having her family not believe that she felt something was medically wrong. After receiving the diagnosis, Dyanna felt validated that something was in fact medically wrong all along and that there was a way to manage it.
Talk to your doctor
It is important for people who have had a stroke or who are living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, TBI, MS, Parkinson’s or ALS, or their loved ones, talk to the doctor if these symptoms are present, as it could be PBA, and ask if it can be managed. It is important to share with your doctor if episodes are impacting your life.
To prepare for a discussion with your doctor, you can take a short quiz at www.pbainfo.org. Your answers may help start a conversation with your doctor.
i Miller A, Pratt H, Schiffer RB. Pseudobulbar affect: the spectrum of clinical presentations, etiologies and treatments. Expert Rev. Neurother. 11(7), 1077–1088 (2011).
ii Brooks BR, et al. PRISM: A Novel Research Tool to Assess the Prevalence of Pseudobulbar Affect Symptoms across Neurological Conditions. PLoS ONE 8(8): e72232. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072232