Opioids notebook: Genetics one of many causes for opioid addiction


Drug addicts may be able to partially blame their ancestors.

"Genetics has a huge amount to do with who has a problem and who ends up getting addicted," said Dr. Sheila Specker, a University of Minnesota psychiatrist..

While genetics may not push someone into opioids instead of, say, cocaine, they can be a factor in just being hooked.

Doctors cannot predict who will be most vulnerable to addiction, Specker said. Some people can take an opioid or other drug and not be affected, while others declare: "This is great, I feel wonderful."

"It is all how it affects the brain," the doctor said.

Besides genetics, many factors may contribute to addictions. They include mental health problems, chronic pain, joblessness, depression, poverty, trauma and other conditions.

Drug courts praised

Courts specially established to deal with drug users help solve the problem, Laura Palombi of the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy said.

"Drug courts are rooted in second chances," she said. "This alternative model to serving jail time blends law enforcement and care delivery. It criminalizes the crime and not the individual who struggles with a substance use disorder."

Jen Jensen, a Twin Cities woman who spoke about her opioid addiction in November, credited a judge with saving her life because he helped her get treatment.

That is what drug court judges do all the time.

"They create a high accountability environment by leveraging the power of team support to achieve abstinence, relationship and other personal wellbeing goals," Palombi said.

She said drug courts reduce re-arrests rates from 8 percent to 26 percent.

"We've been working with St. Louis and Carlton counties in Northern Minnesota to incorporate pharmacists, pharmacy students and health care professionals into drug court programs," Palombi said.

Naloxone can save

More Minnesotans are using Naloxone, a medicine that has been proven to save people who overdosed on opioids.

Doctors, pharmacists, emergency medical service providers and law enforcement officers administer the drug throughout the state. Police, especially have drawn attention to Naloxone use because they often are first on the scene to help overdose victims.

The Steve Rummler Hope Foundation provides training about identifying the signs and symptoms of a drug overdose, administering naloxone and what to expect after administering naloxone.

Opioid information online

The Minnesota Health Department has established the Opioid Dashboard, a website providing in-depth information about opioids.

The dashboard, at https://tinyurl.com/MNopioid, shows what opioid-fighting programs are working, data for grant writing and data officials can use to spot trends.

Fighting mail order drugs

The influx of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin, often arrives in the United States by mail.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and other senators have introduced a bill to close a loophole that allows drugs like fentanyl to be shipped by mail to American drug traffickers.

Klobuchar said the rise in fentanyl, which is blamed for Prince's death, can be traced to China, which ships the drug through the mail. U.S. Postal Service packages do not receive the same scrutiny as those carried by private companies, like FedEx and UPS.