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The message from Sentara’s opioid town hall: It’s OK to hate the addiction but still love the addict

Narcan is often used to “wash out” the effects of opioid use for someone who overdosed.

In the past year, 1,159 doses of the counteracting drug — which is also an opioid  — were administered at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center to counteract the effects of heroin and other drugs.

That has prompted emergency department doctors Chinye Obidi to use words like “epidemic,” and “overdose phenomenon.”

“If you’re looking for a gateway drug, this is it,” the Woodbridge physician told a crowd of more than 50 people Thursday night at the medical center, speaking about opioid use and addiction.

Since 1999, the rate of people overdosing on opioids has exploded. And, it affects everybody.

“I feel like I’ve seen this before,” he said. “Maybe some of you are old enough to remember the crack cocaine epidemic? Well, this is different. Instead of going to an urban center and finding a crack house with people holed up and using drugs, it’s in suburban neighborhoods,” he said.

Sentara organized a community symposium called Project STOP — Speaking Out and Teaching Opioid Prevention. While there, attendees learned that hospitals can use opioids to treat severe pain and that prolonged abusers of the drug have increased sensitivity to pain, constipation, itching, and sweating.

Overdosing is ugly, and sometimes people can’t get the help they need.

“They used to dump you at the emergency department and leave you by the door. Today, they leave you behind 7-Eleven and hope someone finds you before your brain stops working,” said Obidi.

For those able to kick the habit, they will always fight the addiction to use again. “This is a chain you have to carry. This is something you have to fight every day,” he explained.

And, while many people make mistakes and can abuse opioids, Thursday night’s message was: You must have a compassionate and nonjudgmental attitude to the addicts and that it’s OK to hate the addiction but still love the addict.

In the coming year, Sentara plans to provide more resources to families who are dealing with opioid addiction. The hospital also plans to increase the number of drug takeback days, so people can properly dispose of unwanted medication so that it’s not used improperly.

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