prescription pills

According to the faculty and students behind Clemson’s deadly drugs symposium, prescription opioids can present just as much of a danger as illicit street drugs.
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Faculty and students in Clemson’s public health sciences department will host a symposium on deadly drugs in South Carolina April 19 at 5:30 p.m. in the Hendrix Center’s McKissick Theater. The symposium, “Deadly Drugs in the Palmetto State: Opiates—an Epidemic?,” will explore opiate drugs, their effects on a variety of audiences and what campuses and communities can do to respond.

The symposium is the culmination of a semester’s worth of work that students have put into a special topics course, Drug Epidemiology and the Opioid Epidemic, taught by Professor Lee Crandall. He said the topic has been a long-time interest for numerous faculty members in the department, and he is looking forward to seeing faculty, students and health care professionals come together to explore the topic to benefit multiple audiences.

“This is an epidemic that is no longer contained to impoverished, inner city areas,” Crandall said. “It’s spreading and it’s in affluent areas; many deaths in South Carolina occur along the I-85 corridor, so we want to get this information out to the campus and community.”

The symposium will focus on illicit opiates such as heroin and oft prescribed medications, such as oxycodone/Oxycontin and hydrocodone (brand names like Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet, etc.). According to Allison Carley, a junior public health sciences major in the class, the symposium will also explore the situations in which these drugs overlap, such as when a person recovering from surgery becomes dependent on prescription medication only to be forced to resort to an illicit drug once that prescription runs out. Students also want peers to be aware of the heightened dangers of mixing opiate drugs with tranquilizers (benzodiazepines).

Carley’s classmate, Chandler Bell, said much of the material that has surprised the class about these issues will be tackled during the symposium. Bell said she was shocked to hear how easy it can be to walk into a doctor’s office, recite symptoms easily retrieved online and walk away with a large prescription. Carley said the first-hand accounts from students in the class were enough to make her consider just how serious this issue has become.

“We’ve heard about people working in high schools having to deal with kids moving from cocaine to heroin,” Carley said. “We’ve heard about middle schoolers appearing in emergency departments with track marks in their arms; that sounds like an epidemic to me.”

Crandall has acted as advisor to the students in the course as they planned the entirety of the symposium. Students from the class will deliver presentations, which will cover gateways to opiates, special issues for women and infants, and campus and community response.

Clemson faculty member Rachel Mayo will deliver a talk on innovative treatments for addicted newborns. Dr. James Fulcher, a forensic pathologist affiliated with Greenville Health System, will deliver a talk on the medical impact of opiate misuse and abuse. Rich Jones, a certified trauma therapist with FAVOR Greenville, an organization dedicated to providing intervention and recovery support services to those seeking recovery, will speak on treatment options for opiate addiction.

Carley said she hopes the symposium will help illustrate the problem, but more than that she hopes the event will make people realize what they can realistically do to help those struggling with addiction or what they can do in an emergency situation. A section of the “response” portion of the symposium will focus on practical interventions like naloxone (Narcan) a nasal spray that blocks opiates and can reverse an overdose if administered in time.

“There’s no reason a tool like that shouldn’t be in every emergency supply unit in case it’s needed,” Carley said. “We want everyone in the Clemson community and beyond to recognize the problem and learn what they can possibly do to help.”