Opioid Misuse Prevention Program (OMPP)


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Sickle Cell and Opioids



Adults with sickle cell disease often experience excruciating chronic pain, prompting physicians to treat them long term with opioid medications.

But a new Johns Hopkins study looking at pain assessments in such patients questions this practice. The study found that adult patients with sickle cell who were treated long term with opioids often fared worse in measures of pain, fatigue and curtailed daily activities than those not on long-term opioids.

“We need to be careful and skeptical about giving increasing doses of opioids to patients with sickle cell disease who are in chronic pain if it isn’t effective,” says study leader C. Patrick Carroll, director of psychiatric services for the Johns Hopkins Sickle Cell Center for Adults. “Too little is known about the effects of long-term opioid management of chronic pain.”

Because advances in treatment of sickle cell disease have led to many more people living well into adulthood, chronic pain has been a growing problem for people with the disorder. These patients are also often treated with opioid pain medications for this chronic pain.

But animal research and some human studies suggest that opioids can paradoxically increase pain sensitivity. This concern, combined with rising awareness of the dangers of opioid therapy, particularly at high doses, has led to a re-evaluation of long-term opioid therapy for many conditions. However, those patients with sickle cell disease who have chronic pain often are prescribed high doses of opioids because the disorder is so hard to treat and recurrent crises can lead to escalating doses.

Carroll, whose study included 83 adults with sickle cell disease, cautions that his team’s work is preliminary and should not lead physicians or people with sickle cell disease to take away opioids that many need to control unbearable pain. One of the biggest challenges in sickle cell disease is that clinicians may not believe patients are in pain when there aren’t any signs of tissue damage or believe they are drug-seeking, and thus contribute to suffering.

“We need to better understand how long-term opioid use affects pain sensitization and determine if certain people are more sensitive to these effects so we can prescribe the best treatment option for each individual patient,” says Carroll. “We also need to learn more about how sickle cell disease may sensitize the nervous system.”

The study was published online on June 15 in a special sickle cell disease supplement of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.


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What are Opioids?

Opioids are substances that act on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects. Opioids are most often used medically to relieve pain, and by people addicted to opioids.

Types of Opioids

What you should know about opioids:

  • Opioids are highly addictive.
  • When abused, even a single large dose can cause severe respiratory failure, which can lead to death.
  • Exposure to opioids in utero increases the risk of defects in the baby’s brain, heart, spine and abdominal wall.
  • Taking too much opioid medication can result in overdose and death.
  • Combining opioids with alcohol, sleep aids or muscle relaxers increase



State Opioid Policies. State has completed CDC Consultation (2019). Syringe Exchange Programs are legal (2019). Good Samaritan Law protects from Parole/Probation Violations (2018). State Medicaid Program does cover Methadone (2017).

Good Samaritan Law

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Maryland's Good Samaritan Law Protects you. If you witness a drug or alcohol overdose, get help. Call 911.

Lock it or drop it. Store or dispose of medication in a lock box or a drop box!

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I am the Opioid Misuse Prevention Program (OMPP) Coordinator for the Wicomico County Health Department. I am currently trying to bring awareness on proper storage and disposal through educational presentations and demonstrations.  If you are interested, please contact me.

Takeisha Collins at 410-219-7557


Click on the link for Wicomico County Drop Box Locations:

                                         Drop Box Locations MedSafe - Medical Disposal Dropbox


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