Heroin


Prescription pillsAlthough the general public often assumes anyone in rehab actively set out to develop an addiction, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, most people who struggle with an addiction to prescription painkillers originally took their medication exactly as prescribed.

Prescription painkillers are often viewed as safer than illegal drugs, but this misconception can lead people to ignore the warning signs of an addiction until a crisis occurs. Working professionals, busy parents, retirees, or people who are otherwise upstanding members of the community can fall prey to unintended addiction even if they have no statistical risk factors for a substance use disorder. The opioid epidemic does not discriminate when it comes to choosing victims.

According to the CDC, as many as one in four people using long-term prescription opioids will struggle with addiction. Addiction to prescription painkillers is also a well-known risk factor for progressing to illegal heroin use.

Determining if You May Have an Addiction

Prescription opioid painkillers are typically prescribed after surgery or to help a patient dealing with chronic pain from a condition such as cancer or osteoarthritis. When used correctly, these medications can greatly improve a patient’s overall quality of life. However, the risk of unintended addiction is a serious downside.

If you think you might be developing an addiction to prescription painkillers, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I started to need higher doses of my medicine to get the same effects?
  • Am I taking this medicine because I am in pain or am I only taking it because I feel like I might need it?
  • When I haven’t taken the prescription drug at the normal time, am I experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as shakes, chills, headaches, or nausea?
  • Do I exaggerate my symptoms or otherwise mislead my healthcare provider to try to obtain additional pills?
  • Do I take medication that I wasn’t directly prescribed?
  • Am I often preoccupied with determining when I can obtain more of this prescription drug?
  • Do I mix my medications with alcohol?
  • Are people close to me expressing concern about my behavior?

If you have a family history of addiction or suffer from a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, you should be aware that you’re at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder than someone who does not have these risk factors.

Understanding Psychological vs Physical Dependence

People who use prescription pain medication can be either psychologically or physically dependent. A psychological dependence means you’re taking the medication in anticipation of pain, instead of trying drug-free ways to alleviate your pain, or because you simply like how it makes you feel. A physical dependence means you experience withdrawal symptoms when you try not to take your medication.

If you’ve developed a physical dependence, it’s important not to abruptly stop your medication. Your doctor can help you taper the medication. You may also be able to use special drugs to safely manage withdrawal, such as buprenorphine.

Physical dependence can occur if you’ve taken a medication for a very long time, even if you’ve always followed the doctor’s orders precisely. However, physical dependence can be a warning sign of a substance use disorder.

The Deadly Consequences of Addiction

The formal definition of a substance use disorder requires your use of opioid medication to be causing problems with your daily routine. This can include financial or legal problems as well as performance difficulties at school or work or strained relationships with family and friends.

However, the ultimate danger of addiction to prescription opioid painkillers is a fatal overdose. Opioids depress the respiratory system, which can cause you to stop breathing. Naloxone (Narcan) can temporarily reverse an overdose, but not all first responders have easy access to this lifesaving drug.

Getting Help

If you think you may be developing an addiction to prescription opioids, your first step should be to discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider. Be open and honest about your medication usage. There’s no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Your doctor’s top priority is protecting your health and wellbeing.

If your doctor agrees that treatment for an opioid use disorder is necessary, St. Joseph Institute for Addiction can help. Our campus is located on a beautiful mountain-side in central Pennsylvania, offering a peaceful and serene environment in which to take the first steps towards recovery. We provide detox, counseling, holistic treatments, and access to aftercare resources designed to heal the mind, body, and spirit healing.

By Dana Hinders

To learn more about our programs, please visit our website.

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Opioid abuse remains a serious public health issue throughout the United States. This is, however, an often misunderstood type of addiction, since many people who use opioid pain medication have a valid reason for doing so and abusers often begin due to an appropriately diagnosed medical condition.

About Opioids

Opioids are a type of narcotic pain medication. They’re designed to interact with the opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brainstem, spinal cord, and limbic system to relieve pain.

Commonly prescribed types of opioids and their associated brand names include:

  • Fentanyl: Actiq, Duragesic, and Fentora
  • Hydrocodone: Hysingla ER and Zohydro ER
  • Hydrocodone and Acetaminophen: Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, and Vicodin
  • Hydromorphone: Dilaudid and Exalgo
  • Meperidine: Demerol
  • Morphine: Astramorph, Avinza, Kadian, MS Contin, and Oramorph SR
  • Oxycodone: OxyContin, Oxecta, and Roxicodone
  • Oxycodone and Acetaminophen: Percocet, Endocet, and Roxicet
  • Oxycodone and Naloxone: Targiniq ER

Heroin is also a type of opioid. Many people who begin abusing prescription pain medications eventually turn to heroin to get the high associated with opioid pain relievers at a lower cost. In fact, studies have indicated that as many as four out of five new heroin users started using after developing an addiction to prescription opioids.

Opioid Dangers

When used in a supervised medical setting, opioids are generally considered safe. However, the medication has a potential for tolerance, dependence, and abuse. The negative health effects of long term opioid abuse include a depressed immune system, lowered libido, respiratory difficulties, osteoporosis, abnormal heartbeat, hallucinations, delirium, and increased fatigue. Overdoses can lead to fatal oxygen deprivation.

Responsible Opioid Use vs. Signs of Addiction

Recognizing the signs of opioid abuse presents unique challenges because the medication serves an important purpose. Short term use after an injury or surgery helps patients recover with minimal discomfort.  People who suffer from chronic pain can also use opioids in cooperation with other techniques, such as physical therapy to help keep their pain levels in check so they can go about their daily routine. Some of the many conditions treated with opioids include:

  • Cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Migraines
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Scoliosis
  • Fibromyalgia

Appropriate opioid use includes the following:

  • Taking medication in the prescribed dose at the correct time
  • Avoiding alcohol or other drugs that could interfere with the effectiveness of the medication
  • Being cautious about driving or operating heavy machinery until you understand how the medication affects your body
  • Keeping medication in a secure location where it’s not accessible by others
  • Refraining from sharing or selling pills
  • Keeping all recommended follow-up appointments with your doctor

Unfortunately, due to the addictive nature of these opioid pain medications, it’s easy to slide from appropriate use into a more serious problem. Signs of potential abuse include:

  • Making excuses to get refills ahead of schedule, such as falsely claiming you lost your medication or had it stolen
  • Seeing multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions for several different types of opioid medications
  • Mixing medications with alcohol or other drugs
  • Buying or stealing pills
  • Requiring an increased dosage over time to get the same effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you’re unable to use
  • Lying to friends and family about your use of opioid medication
  • Avoiding hobbies and other activities you previously enjoyed in favor of using
  • Continuing to use despite experiencing negative consequences in your personal or professional relationships

People of all ages, races, and economic classes can develop an opioid addiction. However, women appear to have the highest risk. Research shows that prescription pain reliever overdose deaths among women increased more than 400% from 1999 to 2010, compared to a 237% increase among men during the same time period. In addition to being more likely to seek out prescription pain relievers from a doctor, women are more likely to become physically dependent on the medication due to their smaller size and hormonal makeup.

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Naloxone, sold under the brand names Narcan and Evzio, has received extensive media attention for its role in treating opioid overdoses. Paramedics, firefighters, police officers, and public safety workers are being trained to administer the drug in hopes of combating the opioid epidemic. However, the best way to fight opioid addiction is to seek treatment as soon as a pattern of abuse is identified.

Treatment programs for opioid addiction provide medically assisted detox and cognitive behavioral therapy to help substance abusers learn different ways to cope with the underlying issues at the root of their addiction. To learn more about treatment options for yourself or someone you love, contact the experienced staff at St. Joseph Institute today.

By: Dana Hinders

WPSU radio station wanted to discuss the increased use of heroin and the inherent dangers.  One of our graduates joined me for the interview and made a great contribution.  Emily was celebrating her third anniversary of sobriety and we are so proud of her.  She is proof that heroin can be beaten and life in recovery can be good!

 

WPSU Radio Story

 

 

Click here to read more of our blog posts concerning heroin and other opiates.

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