There is unquestionably a lot of pain suffered by many Americans on a daily basis. But how the country has been choosing to numb it — at least in part — seems ultimately to have turned things for the worst.

There is unquestionably a lot of pain suffered by many Americans on a daily basis.

But how the country has been choosing to numb it — at least in part — seems ultimately to have turned things for the worst.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids — nearly double in a decade.

More than three out of five drug overdose deaths involve an opioid. Opioids are substances that work on the nervous system in the body or specific receptors in the brain to reduce the intensity of pain. Overdose deaths from opioids, including prescription opioids and heroin, have increased by more than five times since 1999.

Overdoses involving opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016 — 40 percent of those deaths were from prescription opioids.

“From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel,” according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), at asam.org.

The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate; sales of prescription pain relievers in 2010 were four times those in 1999; and the substance use disorder treatment admission rate in 2009 was six times the 1999 rate, the website reads.

In May 2016, to address the escalating crisis, Gateway for Prevention and Recovery opened its first outpatient opioid medication-assisted treatment clinic for Shawnee and surrounding communities.

Cindy Stober, clinical director at Gateway to Prevention and Recovery, said Gateway's clinical team consists of medical director Dr. Paul Johnson, addiction medicine specialists, licensed alcohol drug counselors, licensed professional counselors, case managers and PEER recovery support specialists.

Clinics like this are needed.

Nationally, Stober said, more people are dying of overdose than car accidents.

Dr. Sam Ho, chief medical officer, UnitedHealthcare, said it's important to find out what you are getting when prescribed a pain reliever.

“UnitedHealth Group medical experts recommend you ask your doctor these questions about any opioid prescription,” Ho said. “Opioids can be deadly when mixed with other drugs — especially those taken for treatment of anxiety, sleeping disorders and seizures.” He also said it’s a bad idea to mix alcohol with an opioid pain reliever or muscle relaxants.

Common opioid brand names include Vicodin and Percocet.

Last year, according to the CDC, 813 Oklahomans died of an overdose, and many Oklahoma counties exceed the national average and more than neighboring states Arkansas and Kansas combined.

Shawnee Police Department Investigator Cody Gibson, who works with the Pottawatomie County District Attorney's office on the Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, said the term “crisis” is an accurate description for the issue.

No matter what drug-related call the SPD encounters — whether it involve marijuana, methamphetamine or cocaine, etc. — Gibson said there is most often some use or abuse of opioids tied to it.

“It's not every single time, but it's so bad,” he said. “Whether it be use or selling, the bulk of instances will have some form of opioid involvement going along with it.”

He said what makes it worse is what looms beyond.

“What typically follows is heroin,” Gibson said, “because abusing prescription drugs offers the same type of high.”

Once hooked, there becomes the problem of shifting to street drugs when it gets too hard to keep the prescription pills coming, he said.

“You don't have to doctor shop, you can just go find a drug dealer,” Gibson said.

What's worse is someone could buy heroin off the street and not have a clue what it might be laced with, he said.

The rise in drug take-back boxes all over town the past few years is great for those wanting to do the right thing, or keep temptations away he said, “but you could have one of those on every street corner and they won't stop the ones already abusing opioids.”

Pottawatomie County Sheriff Michael Booth has announced an effort aimed at battling the effects of opioid overdose.

As a member of the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, Booth said, “our organization recognizes that opioid abuse and addiction is a serious and dangerous issue facing communities and first responders.”

The Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association — with members throughout all 77 counties, he said, is taking a bold step by outfitting every Oklahoma sheriff and their deputies with a supply of NARCAN Nasal Spray, the drug with the ability to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and make training available to every Oklahoma sheriff.

To date, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has trained more than 3,700 law enforcement officers/agents from 176 law enforcement agencies statewide and distributed over 5,000 naloxone rescue kits through their statewide prevention efforts.

The increasing devastation caused by the opioid crisis has spurred action from other local entities the last few years as well:

• In November, 2015, a group of concerned families and leaders came together to address an issue that is plaguing the community, as well as the rest of the state.

Support/resource group originally organized as Parents Against Drugs, later became a Parents Helping Parents chapter.

“I feel like as parents we are embarrassed to bring it out in public and I think this is what this group is about, bringing this out into our community and making awareness for parents who don’t know where to turn and to find resources and provide for other parents,” Patricia Stanford, one of the cofounders, said.

Joan Cole, chairperson of the Norman chapter of Parents Helping Parents, said some people look at it as a moral failing rather than a disease.

“We don’t do that with diabetes or cancer,” she said. “But, because of the behavioral component that goes with it, we put shame and guilt on it and point fingers. That’s not how we find solutions.”

Treatment works, Cole said.

“I want to make sure that no parent has to walk this path alone, and to know there’s help and support and resources available to you and to your loved one,” she said.

• In September 2016, dubbed “This Little Light of Mine,” a candle-lighting ceremony and prayer meeting organized for the public by C3 (Cross Connection) Church focused on collective prayer for deliverance, restoration and guidance for those in the community who struggle with addiction.

Pastor Ken Kerbo said his church hopes to show those families who are affected by addiction that they are not alone.

“There is a large number of families in the same situation,” he said.

Kerbo's church also initiated other ways to help the hurting.

“We want the public to know that they do not need to struggle through recovery alone,” he said. “We are here to support their recovery.”

Facts and stats

• More than 13 million people in the world today are believed to be abusing opioids every day. About 75 percent of these people are using heroin exclusively or as a second preference drug.

• Researchers are also investigating the long-term effects of opioid addiction on the brain. One result is tolerance, in which more of the drug is needed to achieve the same intensity of effect. Another result is dependence, characterized by the need to continue use of the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Information gathered from healthresearchfunding.org.

Local services available through Gateway to Prevention and Recovery:

• Medication-assisted treatment (Opioid dependence)

• Naloxone kit distribution site

• Screening, assessment, referral

• Treatment for addiction, depression, anxiety or compulsive behaviors

• Treatment for gambling addiction, sexual addiction, shopping addiction, and eating disorders

• Trauma counseling

• Marriage and family counseling

• Adolescent assessments

• Child and family therapy

• Student assistance program

• Specialized court-ordered services

• Employee assistance program

• Community prevention program

For more information, call Gateway to Prevention and Recovery at (405) 273-1170.

Check it out

This spring's National Drug Take Back Event is Saturday, April 28, at the Shawnee Senior Center, 401 N. Bell. Unused or expired medications can be dropped off for safe disposal. The senior center began participating in the joint effort in the Fall of 2015.

The event is hosted by The Pottawatomie Alliance Toward Community Health Coalition (PATCH) in partnership with the City of Shawnee Police Department, and Gateway to Prevention and Recovery, Inc.