Psychotherapist Sutton Burke told a hotel conference room filled with pharmacists that thorough screening of patients and a centralized computer system for tracking drug prescriptions are critical tools in keeping an opioid addiction problem from coming to Cayman and the rest of the Caribbean.
Ms. Burke, a counselor with Infinite Mindcare in Cayman, said there is little evidence that the islands are seeing that would point to the kind of epidemic that has been experienced in the United States in recent years, but the potential is there.
On Friday, Ms. Burke addressed the Caribbean Association of Pharmacists as part of its weeklong convention at the Marriott Beach Resort.
“This is happening and this is real,” Ms. Burke said. “This is medication you may have in your medicine cabinet.”
Nearly 50,000 opioid-related deaths were reported in the United States in 2017, a doubling of the number seen just five years earlier. Figures provided during Ms. Burke’s talk indicated that 2.1 million Americans have an opioid abuse problem. Worldwide, that figure is estimated between 26.4 million and 36 million.
Ms. Burke urged the group to take action.
“There’s a lot you can do to help, to keep this from coming here or from getting worse,” she said.
In her own practice, she said, she has seen a slight increase in cases of opioid addiction. No figures for Cayman were immediately available and recently released data on causes of death locally did not break out a category for drug overdose.
Very often, opioid addiction begins with the legitimate use of drugs such as Vicodin or oxycodone for pain relief. Some people can develop dependency on such drugs and can then begin to overuse them, resulting in addiction. The proliferation of such medications has also resulted in easier access for recreational use of such drugs.
Those with an abuse problem will often seek to procure more medication than they might otherwise be prescribed. Ms. Burke said this can lead to patients attempting to refill prescriptions earlier than would be warranted and even engaging in doctor and pharmacy shopping. She said there are a small number of doctors in the Cayman Islands known for prescribing medication on a patient’s request.
Ms. Burke encouraged the group to engage in a call to action for a government-financed shared prescription database.
“It’s happening all over the world,” she said, “and it’s very affordable.”
Pharmacists should also begin screening every patient when it comes to opioid medications.
“The pharmacist may be the first to suspect opioid abuse,” Ms. Burke said. “This is all about communication with your patients.”
Acknowledging that the subject is an uncomfortable one to address, she provided some strategies for approaching the process.
“We need you to believe in yourself and what you’re doing,” she told the group. “Believe in the idea that this is for therapeutic purposes.”
She said more discussion among professionals is also important and suggested making opioid use a mandatory topic in future conferences.
“Make sure you’re educating every patient,” she said. “You could be saving a life.”