HOOPA — Opioids have become a nationwide epidemic, according to Dagim Taddesse,

PharmD, APP, Pharmacy Director/ Advance Practice Pharmacist at K’ima:w Medical Center.  “The Hoopa Valley is not exempt from the opioids epidemic.”

Opioids are a type of narcotic pain medications. They can have serious side effects if they are not used properly.

Since arriving as a registered pharmacist at the K’ima:w Medical Center in January 2017, Dr. Taddesse began a program of evaluation of every prescription prescribed by the local medical community, especially the opioid prescriptions.

In 2016, the pharmacy dispensed 13,262 prescriptions for controlled substances.  As an advance practice pharmacist trained in clinical settings, Dr. Taddesse initiated a practice to discuss every opioid prescription with the prescribing provider.  The practice has created a reduction of 2,142 prescriptions within the last year.

“My goal is to provide excellent customer service that is solely focused on patient-centered care,” commented Dr. Taddesse.  “We really want what is best for the patient, now and for long-term use.”

He stated that within the last year, the reduction in prescriptions equates to approximately 81,000 pills in the C2 highly-restricted category.  Percocet, Oxycodone, Vicodin, and Norco are common examples of C2 opioids prescribed for treatment of moderate to severe pain.

In 2016, the U.S. Surgeon General declared that in the “prescription opioid epidemic that is swelling across the U.S. has hit Indian Country particularly hard.”  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rates of death from prescription opioid overdose among American Indian or Alaska Natives increased from 1.3 per 100,000 in 1999 to 8.4 per 100,000 in 2014.

K’ima:w Medical Center is an affiliate member with the California Rural Indian Health Board, Inc. (CRIHB), an organization that provides education, operational support and legislative leadership for its members.  CRIHB released a statement that increased medical costs, social services costs, child welfare costs, law enforcement costs, court costs, incarceration costs, lost of productivity amongst tribal membership, wrongful death of members, lost opportunities for the Tribe and its membership are real costs caused by opioid manufacturers and distributors.

CRIHB’s release also stated that addicted parents, removal of children from parents, and infants born addicted pose a direct threat to the continuation of tribal culture, identity, and membership.  There is a significant lack of resources for education, treatment, prevention, and public safety in tribal communities to address this drug epidemic, threatening tribal members and the future of Indian Country.

Dr. Taddesse also stated that he and the medical team at K’ima:w Medical Center have taken every step to decrease opioid prescriptions in the Hoopa Valley.  “We use every encounter with a patient to educate about the harmful outcomes of long-term use of opioids.  It can lead to dependence and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to overdose incidents and deaths,” he concluded.