Opana drug abuse on the rise

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The Centers for Disease Control says the abuse of Opana is now an epidemic.

Local law enforcement and Triad doctors are seeing an increase in the abuse of the strong prescription pain-killer even resulting in a local death.

"A lot of the folks that normally you wouldn’t think would be addicted to a narcotic drug are taking them,” said Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson. His department first started seeing the drug being abused about two years ago. “They begin using them orally, when that high is not intense enough or quick enough they’ll start to inject it, snort it and now smoke Opana.”

When it comes to injecting the drug doctors are seeing an increase in dirty needles being used and resulting in blood bacteria that destroys heart valves. The damage seen in many young patients is resulting in open heart surgery and long-term antibiotics.

The damage to the heart valves from contaminated needles has now been linked locally to one death.

“It’s destroying lives and killing people unfortunately,” said Dr. David Priest with Novant Health in Winston-Salem. “We’ve seen so much of this … in the last few months it’s a major public health issue from our stand point.”

Sheriff Atkinson says they’ve had success in reducing the abuse of other prescription drugs in his community by working with physicians locally to try to cut down on large quantities of drugs being prescribed. It’s a plan, along with educating the community that he hopes will help battle the abuse of Opana.

The FDA is also looking to re-label the drug so it can only be used for pain severe enough to require daily around the clock treatment.

"As the medical community we need to kind of think this through and decide how we can help these patients,” said Dr. Priest.  “One is how to prevent them from getting Opana in the first place, two treat infections when they develop them and get them the addiction help they need and mental health services they need so they don’t go back to this activity.”