Help curb the epidemic

Published 11:17 am Tuesday, March 26, 2013

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

I was actually a little surprised to learn exactly how bad opiate abuse problems are in Shelby County during a recent county Drug Free Coalition meeting.

Like many, when I hear the word “opiate,” I immediately think of substances such as heroin and other illegal drugs.

I often don’t associate the word with relatively common pain killers such as Lortab and hydrocodone, and I was surprised to learn how quickly a person can become physically dependent on these substances.

Worse, a person can unintentionally contribute to their own substance abuse problem, as Bradford Health Services representative Lonnie Layton said the “number-one opiate withdrawal symptom” is lower back pain.

When a person takes an opiate pain killer for 30 days, they can become physically dependent on the substance, Layton said.

When attempting to stop taking the substance, a user can suffer lower back pain as a result.

When the back pain returns, a person may seek another prescription of an opiate pain killer, which can further perpetuate the problem.

As users build up a tolerance, they often increase their dosage to match the substance’s original effect.

Currently, the opiate addiction problem is affecting primarily ages 19-25 in central Alabama, and is taking Shelby County “by storm,” Layton said.

The number of heroin-related deaths in Shelby County rose from eight in 2009 to 10 in 2011.

In 2012, the task force recorded four confirmed heroin-related deaths, and is awaiting toxicology reports from 16 others.

Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Keith Webb said the county’s Drug Enforcement Task Force has investigated a similar number of drug-related cases during the first few months of 2013 as it did last year, but said the number of drug confiscations have risen since 2012.

Of the Alabama counties Bradford serves, Layton said Shelby County has, by far, the most resources available to residents and their families struggling with substance abuse problems.

Whether admitted voluntarily or involuntarily, those who take part in rehabilitation programs have high rates of success in overcoming their addictions, Layton said.

“We’ve got to reach these people, because people are dying out there,” Layton said.

If you know of anyone who is struggling with any type of substance abuse problem, don’t hesitate to help them get the help they need.

Neal Wagner is the city editor for the Shelby County Reporter. He can be reached at 669-3131 ext. 17 or by email at