Local doctor describes impact of drug overdose on body

"Those that suffer from those overdoses oftentimes don't recognize those symptoms within themselves," Essay said. "So it's dependent on somebody else around them to recognize it."

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — Dr. Phil Essay has spent the past two decades as a pain management specialist in Lincoln. He says he’s treated several patients who have struggled with drug addiction and overdose with each case as sobering as the one before it.

“It’s a terrible struggle,” Essay said in an interview for Channel 8’s investigative series on Lincoln’s overdose crisis.

Essay says sleepiness, confusion and stupor are some of the many signs he typically sees in a patient that’s overdosed on drugs. Most opioids, including fentanyl, depress the nervous system.  However, the scariest part to Essay is what the patient doesn’t feel.

“Those that suffer from those overdoses oftentimes don’t recognize those symptoms within themselves,” Essay said. “So it’s dependent on somebody else around them to recognize it.”

Unfortunately, Essay sees far too many of these cases, as does the nation. According to the CDC, there have been 841,000 deaths related to drug overdose since 1999. Seventy percent of all of those deaths involve some sort of opioid.

Essay says, thankfully the Lincoln community is taking action. The Lincoln Lancaster County Health department announced a “Health Alert” on Aug. 19 after seeing a spike in overdose cases across the community.

“Other parts of the country, some of the larger cities but also some of the smaller communities scattered in rural areas, have known this has been a problem for a very long time,” Essay said.

Beyond the heartbreaking numbers, Essay says the hardest part for him is watching a patient suffer on so many different levels when they’re battling drug addiction.

“Patients can have a physiological dependence on these medicines,” Essay said. “So much so that when they deprive their body of the drug, they have an extreme craving and can feel quite terrible if they don’t continue to provide their body with that drug.

“Then there are emotional and spiritual consequences that come from it too – quite a lot of stigma and quite a lot of shame for these people.”

Essay knows so many people who have been impacted by drug overdose throughout his time practicing medicine. He warns everyone it can happen to any person of any age at any time.

“Seventy percent of people with an opioid abuse disorder are employed individuals. Other words they work,” Essay said. “They provide for their families. They’re school teachers and high school students and football players and construction workers and doctors and lawyers.

“It affects all types, all ages, and it often doesn’t come from recreational use of a medication. It comes from what was at least originally a legit prescription from a physician for some reason. Motor vehicle accident or trauma of other sorts or surgery. An individual starts medication and then they can’t stop.”

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