The Seaford Chapter of Sussex County Action Prevention Coalition (SCAPC) held its monthly meeting this week, continuing to try to attack the area’s drug problems from various angles.
SCAPC is a nonprofit organization with the mission “to help individuals and families who are struggling with addictions, substance abuse and other life-related problems get the help they need through collaborating community resources and services, and coordinating opportunities that promotes positive choices that lead to healthy lifestyles and wholeness.”
Kathryn A. Keating Hudson, program coordinator from Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford, spoke to the group about what her hospital has seen when it comes to patients dealing with addiction.
Hudson said the stigma surrounding addiction needs to be addressed by people having open discussions.
“It’s all about education. It’s an addiction, like nicotine, caffeine, everything else. We’re the ones who put the stigma on it — the public does,” she said. “I thank people — when they’re honest with me about their drug history, I thank them. It’s so much easier to treat them.”
Hudson, who has been a nurse for 21 years, with 18 years spent at Nanticoke, said that from Jan. 1 to June 30 of this year, their emergency room saw 19,990 patients.
“Out of that, we had 159 patients that tested positive or admitted to using heroin,” she said. “Is that an exact number? It’s not.”
Hudson said the most common age range for heroin use was 20 to 40 years old. The youngest heroin-using patient on record for that period of time was 16, with the oldest being 68.
“They were one of our heroin saves,” she said of the 68-year-old. “They came in as a heroin overdose in respiratory failure.
“We saw six pregnant women who had heroin in their system. We saw 28 heroin overdoses and one death. We were averaging 4.7 overdoses a month. Again, that’s if we’re getting all the correct information, and we know we’re not. We’re mostly likely seeing more than that.”
Common complaints from heroin users include skin abscesses or cellulitis. Hudson said that is due to their injection sites becoming infected.
“Some are septic because of these skin infection.”
Hudson said common areas of injection are between the toes and fingers, under the nails and the antecubital spaces of the arms (the inside of the elbow).
“If it’s around the joint, you can get infections in the joint. They are a higher priority for us because they can become septic quickly,” she said. “A lot of times when they come in with respiratory complaints, usually we have the story. It’s because someone has found them, there’s a needle present, a tourniquet or there’s heroin. Those are not us guessing… that is from what they see at the scene.”
Many of the patients use more than one drug — the most common in the charts Hudson reviewed was marijuana; however, some were also using cocaine and amphetamines.
“When going through withdrawal, they’re suicidal, they want to die. This is when they hit rock bottom. I’ve had 22-year-olds sit in my triage chair, and they’re devastated. They know that their lives have changed. These people basically come to us with nothing left.”
The average dosage of heroin their patients admitted to using was three bags at one time.
“We had a patient who said 13, 14, 15 bags a day. That’s a lot of drugs.”
Common medical conditions seen in heroin users include anxiety, depression, MRSA (drug-resistant staph infections) and HIV/AIDS.
“A lot of 20-year-olds are walking around with hepatitis C, and it’s all from IV drug use.”
As a healthcare professional, Hudson said, it’s frustrating to see patients who don’t seem to grasp the seriousness of their addition after their lives have been saved following an opiate overdose.
“We are pulling these kids out of the car; they’re not breathing — they’re purple, their families are telling us they’re dead. They have no pulse. The first thing we’re doing is having to give them the Narcan,” she said of naloxone, an opioid receptor antagonist, which can help counteract the effects of a heroin overdose. “Sometimes it reverses it the first time, and sometimes we have to give more than one dose, depending on the amount of heroin they used.
“But it’s frustrating, because once they come around, if their friends are with them or they’re over the age of 18, we cannot contact family members. So it becomes a joke. They survived it. It’s not a big deal. ‘Why are we so upset about it?’ ... It becomes the selfie picture [moment]. So the seriousness of the situation is lost by the time they leave.”
Hudson said the addiction also affects friends and family members in varying ways.
“We do have some family members that are angry and just don’t know what else to do… Some families are embarrassed, or they’re in denial. They don’t want to admit it — they’re going to pretend it’s not a problem.”
Dr. Edward McDonough, assistant medical examiner for the State of Delaware, also spoke briefly at the meeting.
“Anybody in healthcare has seen the waxing and waning of different types of drugs that are on the streets and coming out of pharmacies and doctors’ offices,” he said. “Currently, heroin is the drug of choice for several different reasons… Heroin is cheap. Heroin is plentiful.”
He said that those struggling with addiction never know what kind of craving they’ll have on a day-to-day basis.
“You don’t know… ‘Am I going to use one bag today? Am I going to use two bags today, four bags today?’”
He spoke briefly about naloxone and its ability to reverse an overdose, talking about how easily an overdose can happen.
“First you fall asleep, and then you stop breathing. It’s not dissimilar to alcohol.”
Asked about any side effects that may be caused by the antagonist, he said, “There may be adverse effects from any medication given. This is pretty safe, given the alternative.”
Jim Martin, chairperson of SCAPC Seaford, encouraged those in attendance to make noise about the addiction issues plaguing their communities.
“It really is a community grassroots effort,” he said. “Call your state senator, call your state representative. Tell them that you’re involved in the coalition. If you reach out to them… let them know that you exist and that you’re out there.”
The louder they are, he said, the more people will hear and help make a difference.
“Let people know there is a caring group.”
The next SCAPC meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 6, at 10 a.m. at the Stein Highway Church of God’s Lighted Pathway Family Life Center, located at 425 E. Stein Highway in Seaford. All are encouraged to attend. To learn more about SCAPC, visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sussex-County-Action-Prevention-Coalition....