There have been three initial waves contributing to the current state of affairs the United States sees itself in. One life lost to drugs is too many, but the opioid crisis has victimized hundreds of thousands of families nationwide due to deaths from overdose. Of the 72,000 overdose deaths in 2017, 30,000 of those are attributed to the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl. This is a staggering statistic that puts into perspective that the problem has evolved rapidly in recent years. The opioid crisis all began as a means of treating chronic pain; the doctors began overprescribing opioid medications like Vicodin and OxyContin to treat these ailments. What followed has been sheer destruction.
The year 1991 was the first wave of the opioid crisis in which deaths involving the drugs began to rise following a sharp increase in prescription opioids as a means to treat pain. During this time, pharmaceutical companies reassured prescribing physicians about the minimal risk of addiction due to prescription opioids. The same companies also began promoting the use of opioids in patients with non-cancer-related pain, even though there was not enough information about the risks and benefits in these patients.
A few years later, in 1999, statistics show that 86 percent of patients were using opioids for non-cancer pain relief. The communities where the drugs were most prevalent and readily available were the first places to experience increased opioid abuse and diversion. (Diversion is the transfer of drugs from one person to another who was not prescribed.)
The second wave of the opioid epidemic began in 2010 when heroin-related deaths began to increase rapidly because of heroin abuse. During this time, doctors began to decrease opioid prescribing and made it harder to obtain a prescription for opioids. The process of stopping a flow of drugs to someone has become addicted doesn’t mean they’re going to stop; it merely means they will take their business elsewhere, and that is precisely what happened when users turned to illicit street drugs.
Heroin is a cheaper and more widely available substitute to oxycodone, and the use of heroin began to skyrocket in both men and women of all socioeconomic backgrounds as a result of cutting off the supply of prescriptions.
The third wave of the opioid crisis began in 2013 when the synthetic opiate fentanyl become popular. The sharpest rise in drug-related deaths occurred in 2016 with 20,000 drug-related deaths because of fentanyl and other related opioids. The increase in fentanyl deaths is from illicitly manufactured fentanyl used to replace or dilute other drugs of abuse.
Opioid tolerance, dependence, and addiction are all manifestations of brain changes resulting from chronic opioid abuse. One of the most significant obstacles to overcome in opioid dependence is the struggle to overcome the effects of these changes that opioids make in the brain. In medication-assisted treatment (MAT), drugs like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone act on the same brain structures and processes as addictive opioids but with normalizing effects.
Brain abnormalities resulting from chronic use of heroin, oxycodone, and other morphine-derived drugs are said to be the underlying causes of opioid dependence. The person will continue to use the drugs as a means to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Abnormalities in the brain that are shown to produce dependence also proved to be resolved after medical detoxification, which could be within days or weeks of cessation from opioids. The abnormalities that produce addiction are much more complex and long-lasting.
Addiction abnormalities involve an interaction of environmental factors such as stress and psychological conditioning. In some cases, there is a genetic predisposition in the form of brain pathways that were abnormal before a person uses opioids. These abnormalities contribute to cravings that can lead to relapse months or years after the person is no longer opioid-dependent and is a real point of concern in those trying to maintain sobriety.
Due to the current crisis, doctors have been forcing patients off opioid painkillers or severely cutting back on their dose, but this isn’t always the right option either. United States policymakers are supposed to develop guidelines that are not aggressive and unrealistic, but that seems to be what has been happening. Eighteen million Americans are long-term opioids users because of chronic pain, and because of the thousands of lives lost, the medical community has doubled down on reducing the number of opioid pills being prescribed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advocated for tapering off opioids and discontinuing use in patients that use them as long-term therapy for chronic pain. Rapid destabilization can result in worsening pain and precipitate severe opioid withdrawal symptoms that cause a loss of function. The rapid cessation of opioids is also driving patients to obtain illicit and dangerous opioids as they become suicidal during the withdrawal phase.
While opioid withdrawal symptoms are not as dangerous as other drugs like benzodiazepines or even alcohol, they are still extremely uncomfortable and can be the primary reason someone chooses not to get sober. Detoxing from opioids should never be done alone, and if someone happens to run out of or cut back on their dose of opioids, they can expect to deal with withdrawal symptoms that include:
These symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the severity of the addiction and how long someone has been using the drugs. If you are serious about sobriety, there is only one beneficial route to take. The process of “cold turkey,” which means to stop on your own, is not a sustainable model and can push you into a relapse due to the undesirable withdrawal symptoms.
The most useful long-term solution to overcoming opioid dependence is to check yourself into treatment. With the cutting-edge advances in addiction science, achieving long-term sobriety has become more realistic than ever before. To do so, medical detoxification is the first step in the process. This process will allow you to be placed into a detox center for up to seven days and take advantage of 24-hour around-the-clock care.
The purpose of medical detox is to mitigate any risks associated with withdrawal and stabilize the recovering user’s mind and body. As mentioned earlier, suddenly stopping opioid use can cause a loss of function, but in a medical detox center, health care professionals will provide medications such as Suboxone to alleviate the worst symptoms and allow the body to adjust to its new state of sobriety.
Upon completion of medical detox, the journey is not done. When you enter detox, you will be evaluated and assessed by addiction specialists that will determine the level of care moving forward. This could mean placing you in a residential treatment center or outpatient services. Detox may clear the body of drugs and achieve sobriety, but it does not address the core of the issue. This is what the following levels of treatment are designed for.You can attend therapies that help you get to the root of your addiction and help you to overcome opioid dependence. These therapies could include:
All of these therapies will allow you to grow as a human being and begin to work through and overcome your addiction. During this time, there will be a relapse prevention plan put into place that you can fall back on in times of need. Addiction is a lifelong disease, but the right guidance can help make it a tolerable disease.
Opioid addiction can be nearly impossible to overcome on your own. For some, getting trapped may feel like it’s the end, but that’s simply not true. Ocean Breeze Recovery has the tools to help people rebuild their lives and get you out of that thought process. We are an addiction rehab center based in Pompano Beach, South Florida, that is dedicated to healing broken minds, bodies, and spirits.
Ocean Breeze offers customized treatment that provides a better chance of lasting recovery than just detox alone or self-treatment. Those models are not sustainable by themselves, and if you are ready to gain back the traction in your life, it’s important to take the first step. We can help you do that.Call one of our addiction specialists at 855-960-5341 today or contact us online to discuss your options. We are ready to give you the opportunity for a better life and overcome your opioid dependence.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August 09). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates