The opioid addiction crisis is one that we have written about extensively as not only has it greatly impacted the state of Georgia which we are based out of, but the opioid epidemic has ravaged the United States as a whole for the better part of 3 decades now.
From 1999 to 2017, the number of drug overdose deaths have exceeded 702,000 with 2017 alone accounting for 70,000 (68% of those deaths are opioid related). The issue, while getting better still persists. Southeast Addiction has helped many people who have or are currently suffering from an addiction to opiates/opioids.
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Opiate and opioid are used in place of one another, but the terms actually denote two different types of substances. Opiates are natural derivations of narcotics from the opium poppy. They have long since been in rotation as a drug of recreational use throughout history, also fueling many drug wars and being an object of trade. Opium has been use for thousands of years as multiple civilizations make reference to the opium poppy. For better or for worse, the opium poppy has been present throughout history as both a drug of abuse and a valid medicine.
Opioids are artificially created drugs that are prescribed for the medical purposes of pain management. Chronic pains are the primary reason of opioids being prescribed. Although prescription of such drugs has been cut back on dramatically, the early era of the opioid epidemic in the 1990s saw a completely unrestrained prescription of these drugs for minor pain complaints.
Statistics Surrounding Opioid Use
The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides many enlightening statistics on the opioid overdose crisis. For example, 128 people in the United States die from opioid overdose according to data from 2018. The economic burden of the crisis exceeds $78 billion a year which counts the costs of the burden on the healthcare system as well as lost productivity, incurred costs on the treatment industry, and operating costs for the criminal justice bodies.
According to the NIDA, roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients who are prescribed opioids for pain management will misuse them. Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder, and finally approximately 80 percent of people who use heroin first started using prescription opioids. This is a very important detail.
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Heroin Usage in US History
Heroin is a potent opioid drug that is concocted from morphine, which is a natural substance that was the predominant ingredient in the troublesome drug opium which has similarly created addiction problem throughout societies in the past.
For example, in the bloody Civil War in America, many soldiers were ravaged with opium addiction as a means to treat the terrible pain the endured throughout the war and after. There was little to no useful medical intervention back then, so wounds festered and became infected, other medical issues cropped up. This only fuelled the addiction to opium as a reprieve from the pain of wounds incurred during war.
There are many drug derivatives of the opium poppy which have been used both medically and recreationally, however heroin has been the one which has frequently caused damage to communities throughout the United States for the better part of 5 decades.
Heroin was a national problem in the 1960s which experienced an epidemic of heroin use that while low in total numbers of affected, was seen as an issue due to the lack of understanding of addiction and how such behaviors form. The very addiction and drug taking itself was seen as a problem.
Heroin Usage as a Product of Prescription Opioid Use
Heroin is the dangerous progression that many addicted to prescription opioids take as their prescription runs out and they are left wanting. While it was incredibly important to tamp down on how easy it is to obtain prescriptions for opioids, it also leaves the problem of steering those affected to illegal street drugs like heroin.
When prescription opioid abuse heightened in the past 30 years, so too did heroin usage both predictably and concurrently.
Symptoms of Opioid Usage
Opioids attach to opioid receptors in the brain and other parts of the body. When bound to the receptors, opioids block the pain signals in the body which is what makes them so effective as pain relievers. However, much like alcohol, the tolerance for these drugs and their relieving effects becomes greater and greater, thus setting up a cycle of potential abuse for those who wish to chase the initial potency of the drugs.
What is often not discussed is how the cessation of pain due to opioid usage and abuse can actually lower the pain threshold of patients who are repeatedly using opioids. So, not only is there a cycle of abuse inherent in drugs that users develop tolerance for (until fatal dosing levels are reached), but the initial need which may have been founded on chronic pain has now become significantly worse due to a lowered ability to tolerate pain comfortably and a sensitivity to pain is founded.
Like with alcohol addiction, the progression is such that a person must drink to feel normal. In the case of opioid addiction, this is also true. As pain and discomfort become dominant when not under the influence. However, “normal” is the wrong choice of wording when referring a drug induced homeostatic response. The barrage of opioids in a person’s body can result in both short and long term effects.
Short term effects include:
- Sluggishness or drowsiness
- Brain fog/difficulties concentrating
- Reduced respiratory
- Loss of consciousness
Long term effects include:
- Increased risk of heart attack or heart problems
- Mental illness such as depression and generalized anxiety disorder.
- Hormonal imbalances
- Hypoxia as a result of respiratory complications
- Gastrointestinal complications such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Withdrawal Symptoms of Opioid Addiction
Opioid withdrawal is an inevitable part of both experiencing an opioid addiction as well as trying to recover from one. Withdrawal symptoms can come on as quickly as just a few hours from the last dose. Withdrawal symptoms can be separated into two categories: short and long term withdrawal symptoms.
Early withdrawal symptoms can start as soon as 6 hours and be delayed as much as 30 hours. Typically, within 24 hours of
stopping the drug, a person may experience:
- Bodily aches and pains
- Onset of Restless Legs
- Eyes tearing up
Symptoms after the 24 hour period may be:
- Onset of depression
- Gastrointestinal issues such as cramping
How is Opioid Addiction Treated?
Treatment for opioid addiction must start with a detox phase in which the person abstains through the withdrawal period so that their journey into recovery begins. This detox is of course, medically supervised to limit or ensure that health complications can be kept to a minimum as withdrawal symptoms from many substances such as opioids or alcohol can be severe enough to cause death.
Southeast Addiction knows that the key to treating not just opioid addiction, but any addiction, is to have consistent daily contact hours. Our PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) in Georgia is designed around emulating a realistic setting for those who are coming in for treatment.
While we strongly believe that every person’s case is unique and merits a custom tailored treatment plan to address those nuances, there are facets of addiction treatment which greatly benefit all involved regardless of their current recovery status or where they have come from.
Group therapy is particularly important for fostering solidarity in the recovery community and ensuring that no person feels alone in their struggle. It can be helpful to see firsthand other people talk about their experience with addiction—something typically hidden in a persons life. This alone can provide healing and acceptance of the current situation which are paramount for recovery.