Vi Waln: Prescription pills are destroying lives in Indian Country

Vi Waln

Prescription drugs are dangerous
By Vi Waln
Lakota Country Times Columnist

The number of people who abuse prescription narcotics is staggering. We all know someone who struggles with an addiction to opioids. These are the people who are constantly searching for prescription pills, such as hydrocodone, morphine or oxycodone.

Along with opiate overdoses, some of which have resulted in death, in South Dakota there have been at least 2 deaths attributed to heroin overdoses this year. The number of people who overdose and die from opiates will continue to rise as long as they do not seek treatment. Alcohol has been the scourge of the Lakota people since its introduction to us. Yet, today the number of our people addicted to opiates will soon match, or even surpass, those addicted to alcohol.

On the streets of our reservation communities, the widely sought prescription pills are referred to by the slang terms “hydros” or “oxys.” Heroin and opium are illegal drugs which are in the same drug class as these prescription pills. Many people don’t intend to become addicted to pills, but the dependence upon a prescription drug can happen fast. For example, people can become addicted when they are prescribed hydrocodone or oxycodone to manage post-surgery pain.

Consequently, it is estimated that at least 78 people die every day from an opioid overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that “at least half of all US opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. In 2014, more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids.”

Data compiled by the CDC also shows that people aged 25-54 years had the highest overdose rates. American Indians or Alaskan Natives have some of the highest overdose rates in this country. In addition, nearly 2 million people in the US either abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014.

Obviously, this data proves how dangerous opiates are. Consequently, there have already been several deaths on the Rosebud Reservation unofficially attributed to an opiate overdose by local people. When someone dies from an unintended opiate overdose, the cause of death could be listed as suicide. Death by suicide is one of the highest statistics we have in Indian Country.

“To understand the appeal of opioids it is necessary to understand the effects. At low to moderate doses the ‘High’ from opioids is not intoxication or impairing (as with alcohol)," The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment states. "It does not feel like alcohol or marijuana, or hallucinogens. It instead provides feelings of intense joy and comfort, more so than can be obtained naturally. It is similar to feelings of great accomplishment, or achievement of a lifetime goal, rather than an impairment. At higher doses, breathing is slowed, eventually to the point of death. This respiratory depression is the cause of overdose deaths.”

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If you are taking opiates for pain, please know there are other ways to manage chronic pain. It takes strength and courage to overcome any addiction. Our children deserve to grow up in homes with adults who are sober and have clear minds. Remember, children will mimic everything you do, including the abuse of alcohol and drugs.

Please find a way to get off the pills. You could literally lose your breath by taking those drugs. When you unintentionally take too many hydros or oxys and stop breathing, you’ll likely be just another number driving up the suicide statistics in Indian Country.

(Vi Waln is an enrolled citizen of the Sicangu Lakota Nation and is a nationally published journalist.)

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