Dawn O’Keefe

Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner Dawn O’Keefe with Comprehensive Healthcare in Sunnyside knows how devasting opioid substance abuse can be for families.

Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner Dawn O’Keefe with Comprehensive Healthcare in Sunnyside recognizes that 2020 was a record year for opioid-related deaths in Yakima and understands its painful effects on families, an issue that is especially near and dear to her heart.

O’Keefe had been recently practicing in New Hampshire, which is second in the country for fatal opioid overdoses, before arriving to Yakima County. She has learned firsthand about the neglect of treating comorbid illnesses, which is the combination of underlying mental health, depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome and substance use.

Comorbid substance use disorder and mental illnesses are common, with about half of people who have one condition also having the other. Substance use disorders and mental illnesses have many of the same risk factors. Additionally, having a mental illness may predispose someone to develop a substance use disorder and vice versa, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Substance use disorders help change a person’s normal needs and desires and replace them with new priorities connected with seeking and using drugs. This results in compulsive behaviors that weaken the ability to control impulses, despite the negative consequences, and are similar to hallmarks of other mental illnesses.

This behavior attempts to help fill the void of emptiness for people who may be going through other mental health issues: such as feeling more isolated or alone in dealing with the uncertainty of the pandemic and increased availability of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, the ARNP explained.

“I really enjoy treating both illnesses. You can’t neglect one for the sake of another, you have to treat them both together because they’re very much intertwined. I also know the devastation to the family with substance abuse. Opioids are non-forgiving. It will take someone’s life in five minutes,” O’Keefe described.

In a WA State Department of Health report, Fentanyl overdose deaths in the state increase by 38% in 2020. Overdose signs include blue, gray or ashy skin, slow or no breathing, or not waking up.

“I think getting Narcan out there to save lives is huge,” O’Keefe communicated. “You have six-minutes to save someone’s life, and that’s it. And then you lose the opportunity. The suffering for that goes on and on. The overdose is preventable. It’s just having access to Narcan and having access to treatment.”

Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan among others, is a medication used to block the effects of opioids. The nasal spray is a pre-filled needle-free device that requires no assembly and is sprayed into one nostril while patients lay on their back. It is a safe and effective antidote to opioid overdose.

Anyone can purchase Narcan directly from a pharmacist and all major pharmacy chains without a doctor’s prescription.

Comprehensive Healthcare teams have launched a new cohesive prevention and treatment effort on April 20 and are able to prescribe Suboxone.

The monthly injection of Suboxone, a medication for opioid use disorders (MOUD) is specifically for individuals in withdrawal. Often, individuals may be experiencing pain through the process of an abrupt discontinuation and intervention with Suboxone helps interrupt that discomfort, the media release informed.

“Here, we go further. We treat the dual diagnosis, which is mental health and substance abuse, which is critical. You cannot treat one without the other.”

Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some prescription opioids are made from the plant directly, and others are made by scientists in labs using the same chemical structure. They are often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain, the National Institutes of Health reported.

The research also indicated opioids are used mostly to treat moderate to severe pain, though some opioids can be used to treat coughing and diarrhea. Opioids can also make people feel very relaxed and ‘high,’ which is why they are sometimes used for non-medical reasons. This can be dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdoses and death are common.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others.

“Opioid abuse does not discriminate on age or social economic background and it’s absolutely preventable,” O’Keefe said. Communities and families have felt the impacts from the first time they received a prescription for an opioid following surgery, which has been going on for the past 20-years.

“I don’t believe there’s been any family in this country that hasn’t suffered, someone that they love has died from this because this has been going on for 20 years,” she declared. “And for the families that have been affected, it becomes all of a sudden very personal.”

Patrick Shelby can be contacted at 509-837-4500, ext. 110 or email PShelby@SunnysideSun.com

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