“Calling it a crisis is a little bit underwhelming:” Health professionals discuss impact of opioids in the Heartland

Erica Williams and Dennis Gade, from Rural Health in southern Illinois, discuss how the opioid crisis is being handled in the Heartland and how to help.
Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 9:41 AM CDT
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - CAPE GIRARDEAU (KFVS) – The opioid epidemic isn’t just something you see on TV or read about – it’s here in the Heartland.

That’s the message from a pair of professionals from Rural Health, Inc. – a health care provider based out of Anna, Illinois.

“Calling it a crisis is a little bit underwhelming for what it truly is,” Erica Williams, a psychiatric nurse practitioner with Rural Health, said Friday morning during an interview on The Breakfast Show Too.

According to the CDC, drug overdoses are the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States.

“If you go out on the street and ask people, ‘What do you think is the leading cause of accidental death is?’ they’d say gun violence or automobile accidents,” Williams said. “And that’s just not the case.”

The CDC says motor vehicle deaths, falls and drowning are next leading causes of unintentional deaths.

Homicides and cancers are the second and third leading causes of death in U.S. – according to the CDC – behind unintentional deaths.

Williams says one of the issues in southern Illinois now is pressed pills out on the street – pills that are made to look like a specific drug but are filled with fentanyl.

“You may think you’re getting a Xanex or an Adderall from your friend,” Williams said, “but it’s actually fentanyl.”

So what can be done?

Rural Health is working on prevention as much as it can, Williams said.

On Thursday, the CDC updated its guidelines for prescribing opioids for pain – which includes recommending doctors avoid abrupt discontinuation of opioids, and they should collaborate with patients when making treatment decisions.

“The vast majority of cases are people who started with legal, legitimate prescriptions … and then doctors clamp down on prescribing it,” Dennis Gade, a social worker with Rural Health. “But then, people have nowhere else to turn but the street.”

The CDC also recommends doctors consider therapy instead of opioids -- or prescribing immediate-release medicines instead of extended-release and long-acting ones.