By Wendy Sarubbi | September 23, 2016 7:02 pm

Dr. Martin Klapheke, assistant dean of medical education and professor of psychiatry, recently updated local doctors on the emerging public health crisis of opioid overdoses, speaking at the quarterly meeting of the Seminole County Medical Society.

The society is a non-profit representing about 200 county physicians.

klapheke-scms4Dr. Klapheke discussed new guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designed to provide a framework for physicians when deciding how best to help patients suffering chronic or long-term pain.

Opioids include prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin, as well as illegal drugs like heroin. Addiction – and overdose – is common.

“There were two young adults in my home parish who died from overdoses,” Dr. Klapheke said. “These were people we were close to, and so it was a real wake-up call, to have it touch my local community.”

From 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people in the United States died from overdoses related to opioid pain medication, paralleling an increase in the sales of these medications.

“I really want to have physicians understand these recent trends in opioid prescription use and overdose,” Dr. Klapheke said. “Nearly two decades ago, they were being told to be more aggressive in treating pain, but they had not had enough training and knowledge about the benefits and risks of these medications.”

“Physicians are trying to do the right thing. You are taught to take care of your patient and relieve their suffering – you don’t want them in pain. But we found out that the downside of opioids is much greater than was realized.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said improving the prescribing practices of physicians is a top goal in combating opioid abuse. In fact, the crisis is considered so dire that, for the first time ever, the U.S. Surgeon General sent out a letter to the nation’s 2.3 million health professionals, asking for their help in curbing the epidemic.

Opioid abuse, particularly abuse of heroin and the synthetic opioid Fentanyl, has “skyrocketed” in Florida, Dr. Klapheke said.

“In Orange and Osceola counties, there were 19 heroin-related deaths in 2011. Compare that with 101 in 2015.”

Dr. Victor Lawrence Roberts, president of the Seminole County Medical Society, is an endocrinologist and medical school clinical faculty member based in Lake Mary. He found the presentation “thought-provoking.”

“I think what impressed me the most is just the depth and breadth of this problem. What the 12 points from the CDC do is provide a framework and, at the very least, a place where we can begin a rational, productive discussion on how to manage what, heretofore, has been a very difficult problem.”

More options for managing chronic pain are becoming available, Dr. Klapheke explained, including non-opioid medications, physical therapy and cognitive therapy methods.

In addition, a bill passed earlier this year and signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott is making it easier for family members and caregivers to counteract opioid overdoses with the antidote naloxone before emergency services arrive.

“Now we are making naloxone more available to the public and to professionals to save lives,” Dr. Klapheke said. “That’s the first step, but at the same time we’re working on more long-term prevention in getting pain better treated so that these medications are not used longer than they need to be. It’s that continued use that ends up contributing to abuse and addiction, and ultimately, overdose and death.”

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