County health commissioner visits Fisher to discuss opioid problem

By Crystal Myers staff writer

October is National Pharmacy month, a time that Wegmans School of Pharmacy Dean Christine Birnie says is especially important to “educate and celebrate” the profession. This is one of the reasons why the traditionally closed pharmacy dean’s hour on Monday, Oct. 29 was opened to the greater campus community with a talk about opioid crisis across the nation and specifically, its effect here in Monroe County.

Dr. Mike Mendoza, the commissioner of public health for Monroe County, characterized the overdose epidemic as a public health crisis. He emphasized that as such there is a need for collaboration across professions- between hospitals, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and educators- because everyone has a role to play in the realization of a solution.

    The problem itself is twofold with one problem being that of addiction and the other that of overdose. Dr. Mendoza cautioned that addiction is a chronic illness and emphasized a judgment-free attitude in managing a patient’s struggle. For some it is difficult to admit their addiction and ask for help because of the societal stigma attached. He reiterated in his talk that addiction is not a choice; the choice is when a person decides to get help.

Part of Dr. Mendoza’s presentation included PET scans of brain activity comparing the brains of a person who had never used drugs with that of a person who had not used drugs in 10 days, then one who had not used drugs in 100 days. These showed  that the brain continues to be affected by addiction even after the person has stopped using and the drug would be technically considered eliminated from the person’s system. This reinforces that addiction is a natural struggle regardless of what the addiction is: drug, alcohol or gambling. The end goal is to assist the person struggling-who will inevitably have good and bad days-to not relapse.

Dr. Mendoza emphasized that addiction alone does not account for the opioid overdose epidemic. A key issue is the introduction of synthetic analogs,such as  fentanyl. The fatal problem with fentanyl is that it can cause overdose with just a few granules (three milligrams) in comparison to 30 milligrams of heroin. Toxicology reports confirm this with 90 percent of overdose deaths being from Fentanyl/Synthetic Analogs.

Life expectancy in the United States has decreased two years in a row, in both 2015, and 2016 due to premature death by overdose. Dr. Mendoza highlighted that the last time this historically occurred was during the HIV/AIDs epidemic.

While it’s easy to think of the opioid crisis as somewhere else, happening to other people he shared statistics in Monroe County that are difficult to ignore: while the number of opioid deaths in 2011 was just eight people, in 2017 was a starkly different picture, with 220 people dying.

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