CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - For many people addiction to opioids may start with an injury. The drugs you take to treat the pain could open the door to this dangerous addiction.
Opioid abuse has become such a widespread problem the director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is demanding action.
"More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses, we must act now," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.
Overdoses have quadrupled in North Carolina since 2000, with more than 11 hundred deaths in 2014, mostly from pills and heroin.
A Kannapolis grandmother says she became addicted to opioids after she suffered a serious back injury.
The pain went away but she continued to tell doctors she had it. She figured out how to game the system to get the drugs. She thinks a new effort from Carolinas Healthcare System to fight the growing epidemic will work.
Tondra Blevins has three grandchildren. The youngest is just 2-weeks old.
"I usually go [to see them] at least three days a week on my way home from work," Blevins said.
Her daughter would never let Blevins near them if she was still addicted to pain medications.
"I hate to make this analogy but opiates almost grab a hold of you like loving somebody grabs a hold of you. It's almost like that's your first love and you're not going to let it go for anything or anybody no matter what happens. That's the first thing you think about when you get up, the last thing you think about before you got to bed," Blevins said, "Your entire life revolves around how many pills are in the bottom of that bottle every minute of every day 24 hours a day."
Blevins says the last two years of her addiction she lost her job and her family started to pull away.
"I felt like I was doing a much better job being a mom but in actuality I was not," Blevins said.
Blevins got a tattoo when she turned 50 to mark when she got sober. It's been eight years but she still remembers that addiction.
"The longer you're addicted the more it takes everyday, so then you have to resort to finding more drugs," Blevins said, "Somedays, I would go to 4 or 5 different doctors' offices and walk away with narcotic pain prescriptions."
What started as relieving serious back pain led to her shopping for doctors and pharmacies.
"I had a book that I kept it all in and so I didn't mess up and get arrested," Blevins said, "You take them to different pharmacies and you can't put them all on your insurance at the same time."
Doctors and researchers at Carolinas Healthcare System now have a program in place where it alerts the doctor before he writes a prescription in case a patient is at high risk of misuse and abuse.
"The alert comes up as you are writing a prescription, you don't want to bias any of the visit. So it comes as you are writing the prescription. It just gives you the information that you need to know to either continue the prescription, change the amount of the prescription or even cancel the prescription - if there's some information comes from the health record that puts the patient at risk," said Dr. Joseph Hsu.
Doctor Joseph Hsu works in trauma and sees patients every day. He is working with public health researchers like Dr. Rachel Seymour of the Carolinas Trauma Network Research Center of Excellence.
"We saw that the number of deaths due to overdose in particularly overdose of prescription opioids were exceeding motor vehicle collisions," Seymour
Carolinas Healthcare Systems implemented PRIMUM, a program funded by the CDC and will share their findings with doctors and other healthcare systems across the country to work on prevention.
"We need to deal with this issue on the front end," Seymour said.
Seymour said the face of addiction is different than stereotypes. This program relies on data, not bias.
"What the PRIMUM platform does is allows us take it out of the era of subjective, is this patient a patient that's at risk, is this patient have an addiction problem and that's what's generating the request for narcotics instead it takes it to the objective realm," Dr. Hsu said, "So, that we have the information. We can make an objective decision for the patient."
Blevins remains sober and says she never wants to go back to a life of addiction. As a former addict of opioids, she believes the doctors and researchers at CHS will help people like her.
"I think it will make a huge difference because if that had been implemented when I was in the height of my addiction or even the beginning of my addiction I would not have been able to pull so much over on so many doctors," Blevins said.
PRIMUM has been implemented across CHS' hospitals, urgent cares and physician practices. It's too early to know what the public health impact is, but doctors have said it's helpful to have patients' previous prescription information that was buried somewhere in the health record now at their fingertips.