SPRING HILL — Salman Muddassir, a board-certified internal medicine physician at Oak Hill Hospital, wants to change the way the opioid epidemic is affecting Hernando County. And he’s doing it by taking the problem seriously.

“Opioid utilities is an epidemic in our country,” Muddassir said. “And whether you agree with him or not, over here our president is right. And everybody has to be blamed.”

It starts off trivial, he said. “As physicians we want to do the best we can for our patients. We want them to be pain free.”

Targeting who is to blame is important to enacting change. Physicians were trying to keep their patients comfortable and prescribed too many opioids. Patients felt entitled and expected to leave a doctor visit with a prescription. And society enabled addiction by ignoring the problem.

But it takes a communitywide commitment to end the crisis of opioid addiction that has entered our neighborhoods and our schools.

On Jan. 23, Oak Hill Hospital held an information session that targeted the opioid epidemic by looking more deeply into what is really going on. The program was open to the public as part of Oak Hill Hospital’s Education Series, presented in the GME Conference Center.

Muddassir and one of his residents, Sadyia Usman, presented the facts about opioids, why they can be dangerous, and how people can stop the epidemic.

It is important to clarify that opioids, when used correctly to eliminate pain, are safe. The problem isn’t in the medication. The problem is in the addiction that opioids can create if they are not prescribed and used safely.

The purpose of the discussion was to bring awareness to the seriousness of addiction and to problem solve solutions.

Usman, an internal medicine resident, gave the first demonstration. Usman discussed the effects of opioids on different parts of the body.

“Initially you get relief from pain. Once you’ve been taking opioids for a long time, you become more sensitized to pain,” Usman said.

She also explained specific protocols that should be followed if someone has overdosed.

• Call 911 immediately.

• Give one breath every five seconds.

• Use naloxone if you have it.

Then Muddassir took the podium and talked about what led to the crisis, who is to blame and what we can now do to help fix the problem.

He showed a timeline, chronicling patients whose pain was being under-treated in the 1980s to the 2000s when pill mills opened in nearly every neighborhood and some “unscrupulous doctors became drug traffickers.”

Consider these statistics from 2016:

• 2.1 million people had an opioid use disorder.

• 116 deaths were reported from opioid overdose each day.

• 11.5 million misused their opioid prescription.

• 948,000 used heroin.

• 15,469 deaths were attributed to heroin.

• $504 billion in economic costs.

Muddassir then discussed safe guidelines for use of opioids, as described by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• Opioids are not the first line of therapy.

• Establish goals for pain and function.

• Discuss risks and benefits.

• Use immediate release opioids.

• Use lowest effective dose.

• Prescribe short durations for acute pain.

• Evaluate benefits and harms frequently.

• Use strategies to mitigate risks.

• Use urine drug testing.

• Avoid concurrent opioid and benzodiazepine prescribing.

• Offer treatment for opioid use disorder.

The opioid addiction epidemic is a serious problem that needs to be approached with compassion, he said. And patients and physicians must all be active in changing the course for a healthier future.

The hour and a half education session wrapped up with a presentation from Tampa Opioid Research Network and a discussion on what TORN is doing to help fight the crisis.

One of its co-founders, Danish Hasan, talked about the importance of education to bring awareness to the problem, the SHARPS program that will allow safe disposal of needles and the push for the availability of naloxone to save lives from accidental overdose.

Adam Albadawi, the other TORN co-founder, gave a gripping account of his uncle’s struggle and subsequent death from opioids. He finished with a challenge for everyone to be the change that’s needed to stop the opioid epidemic.

It starts with compassion, he said, because addiction is a disease. “Change the way you talk to change the way you think to make a change in the community.”

For more formation on how you can help fight the opioid addiction crisis, visit TORN’s website at www.tampasopioidresearch.net.