This time last week I was a guest in the Intensive Care Unit at Erlanger East Hospital. And had I taken up an offer to have my knee replaced in a same-day surgery, some of my loved ones would be spending today at our family cemetery singing “Bringing in the Sheaves.” I could have easily been the one in the box.
After last Monday’s surgery, I was eager to walk down the hall and I did. But anytime bones are involved in a surgical procedure, it hurts. And it did. So I took a dose of “blessed relief” and, when it didn’t work as quickly as I had hoped, I took another. I went to sleep and the next thing I knew I was surrounded by my newest friends – I had “coded” and when I was unresponsive, the quick thinkers snapped me back with some of that new drug-overdose medicine. My hospital room was filled with those who came on the run.
I don’t remember much except seeing the relief on all the medical folks’ faces and it was several days before I realized that had I gone home and self-medicated, I would have undoubtably gone into the afterlife as well. The pain meds caused my oxygen-saturation to drop into the danger zone. Without professionals who knew exactly what to do, the realization I could have died becomes a very scary thought.
Last winter I was able to get some Narcan that I keep in my glove compartment. Narcan is the brand name of a nasal spray that contains naloxone hydrochloride. Naloxone blocks or reverses the effects of opioid overdose and I had no idea the stuff would ever be used on me. My intent was that if ever I witnessed somebody having a drug overdose, I would be able to do something until the police arrived.
Since I obtained my Narcan, those concerned about loved ones who are addicted or horrified that they may witness an overdose, can obtain Narcan at drug stores without a doctor’s prescription. With it you can instantly try to save a total stranger’s life, which appeals to me very much. Without it, you can watch a total stranger die. I never want to be a watcher.
What has gotten lost in our frenzied opioid pandemic is the fact that right now – today – ‘meth’ is being abused in record numbers in Tennessee. It is startling. How have we ever reached this point? Chattanooga native Tommy Farmer, who leads the TBI’s drug division, told Knoxville’s WBIR that lab closures statewide are down 82 percent “yet the supply of Mexican methamphetamine, smuggling tactics, and what (the cartels) are using to get ‘meth’ into Tennessee, is unfortunately much, much better.
“The truth is that ‘meth’ use and abuse is at an all-time high,” Tommy told reporters. “We can easily substantiate this with every one of our partner agencies in mental health and substance abuse who see these increases.”
At the end of this month (July, 2018) over 20 drug-treatment centers in our state will suddenly close. It is anticipated “about 30,000” chronic pain patients will no longer have a ready access to opioid drugs like Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin, and Dilaudid. If state officials stand back and allow the drug center closures to take place without a game plan, some people will most surely die.
You see, they’ll switch to Mexican ‘meth’ or heroin, both easily attainable. But what a dealer will do to enhance his product, is to cut it with fentanyl. The drug, as easily manufactured on the black market as ‘meth,’ is 1,000 times stronger than heroin. One gram … the size of a match-head … will kill, most immediately, any person who comes in contact with it.
Every third-world country is an expert at producing fentanyl. You need to know there is no “quality control,” no manufacturing standards, no oversight. This stuff in raw form is as deadly as cobra venom but it is as permissive on our streets this very moment as a Krystal cheeseburger.
Now there is a new one that is completely and totally legal. Before long you are going to hear of a street drug known as “W-18.” It is the deadliest drug our world has ever known. Two years ago the police in Edmonton, Canada, seized four kilograms of the stuff and public health physician Hakique Virani immediately went on public TV to proclaim, “This is enough to kill every man, woman and child in Alberta 45 times over.”
To a user, a ‘doper,’ it is the same as a surfer. They seek the biggest wave, the ultimate high, and while fentanyl makes heroin seems tame, ‘W-18’ is 100 times stronger than fentanyl, which again is 1,000 times stronger then heroin. The user’s challenge is to cut it down repeatedly, time and time again, with the promise the high will be taller than the high-tops on his tennis shoes, yet the end result is always and forever the same. Death.
So here’s the lesson. Last Monday I go to Erlanger where I have hundreds of health professionals who I not only adore but who I believe care about me. I have no way of knowing I have an oxygen-saturation problem and the Erlanger staff follows strict and wise protocol for my pain management. Yet I “code,” and even with Nurse Rachet cooling my brow with a damp wash cloth, she would have had no possible access to oxygen or even know I keep Narcan in my glove compartment.
This drug game needs a far-stronger look. Here I am – everything by the book – yet please realize how very easily I could have croaked. The only way we’ll ever outfight drugs is with education. It is time we learn.