Author Archives: Tammy Tang

Why is there an Opioid Crisis?

I’m sure many of you have heard about the opioid crisis from your friends or on the news, but some of you, like me, may not know exactly how it started and why it became an epidemic.

In 2016, there were about 42,249 opioid overdoses in the United States and about 2,800 opioid-related deaths in Canada. British Columbia is the epicenter of the crisis in Canada with more than 1,400 deaths from drug overdoses last year, and about 81% involved fentanyl.

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Source: Government of Canada

Opioids are natural and synthetic chemicals that act on opioid receptors in your brain and body, and it is often prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain.  Opioid receptors are located in reward centers of the brain and in areas that control pain. When opioids bind to these receptors, it inhibits pain and it can create intense feelings of euphoria. This is what makes them so addictive. Furthermore, our body builds tolerance to it pretty quickly, so it takes more of the drug to deal with the same amount of pain. This can be physically and psychologically demanding and can lead to feelings of withdrawal.

In the 1990s, doctors started prescribing more painkillers to try to treat pain. With the opioid epidemic, it was thought that many people who took the drug that was prescribe, started to take more of it. When pills became expensive and hard to get, they looked for other alternatives such as heroin which is more readily available. The addiction can become deadly because opioid receptors are not only located in areas that control pain and emotion, but in areas that control breathing as well. When they block signalling there, it can slow down and even stop breathing.

naloxone opioid overdose treatment naloxone graphic

Source: Anaheim Lighthouse- Graphics Maya Doe-Simkins

However, we do have some ways to counteract opioids such as the use of naloxone. Naloxone can bind to opioid receptors without causing any unusual effects. It works quite well because it binds to opioid receptors more strongly than the overdosed drug, so it can flood your system and prevent it from binding. However, it has to be given immediately because it doesn’t take long after an overdose to cause you to stop breathing. It’s especially true if you take fentanyl, a stronger synthetic opioid.

Amount of fentanyl it takes to kill a person

Source: CBC News

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and it can be added into heroin and other opioids. Furthermore, fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin and breathing it can kill you.

Source: CBC News

Although I don’t use opioids, I do take tylenol when I am sick, which is a non-opioid pain medication that produce moderate feelings of euphoria. And trust me, it is a very good feeling when you are feeling ill. Therefore, I can see why opioids can be very addicting to those who are in substantial pain.

However, currently, doctors are trying to prescribe fewer opioids, and researchers are trying to find and develop opioids that can kill pain without all the negative effects associated to it.

Source: MSNBC

– Tammy Tang

Flu Vaccine is Only 10% Effective Against H3N2 this Season

Source: Vox. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Did you get the flu shot this year, but end up coming down with the flu anyways? Or do you notice a lot of people around you still sick? There is a reason for that!

The effectiveness of the flu shot is extremely low this year, preventing only 10% of H3N2 flu cases among the ages of 20 to 64 years old. This means that if 100 out of 1000 unvaccinated people develop the flu, the number of cases will only drop to 90 out of 1000 vaccinated people. Therefore, people who were vaccinated should not consider themselves invincible this season.

Typically, the effectiveness of the flu shot is between 50 and 70 percent. However, when the dominant H3N2 strain is circulating during a given year, the vaccine is less protective. This is the case for this year. Because the virus mutates rather quickly as it moves through a population, it makes it very hard to design a vaccine to fight against all of the different strains. Another reason why the vaccine against H3N2 is underperforming this year may have to do with eggs.

Source: Business insider

Vaccines are made through an egg-based production method. Flu viruses are injected into fertilized hen eggs and left to replicate for several days. The virus is then harvested from the egg and inactivated to go into vaccines. However, researchers have recently discovered problems with this approach, specifically related to H3N2. They have noticed that H3N2  mutates to adapt to the egg, which causes the vaccine to be less effective in humans.

Source: Fox News

Now you might be thinking, should you still get your flu shot? … YES! Even though the H3N2 virus is dominant this year, other types of influenza viruses are also circulating and the vaccine can help protect you against them. The vaccine is usually quite effective against H1N1, which is another subtype of influenza A, and strains of influenza B. You don’t know which one you’ll get !

The flu shot does not give you full immunity, therefore, you should always considered other protective measures along with it. For example, you should always wash your hands with warm water and soap, avoid close contact with higher-risk individuals such as the elderly and stay home when you are sick to minimize spreading it to others.

Even though the vaccine is not perfect, it is still the best protection we have against flu viruses!

– Tammy Tang