By Chrissy Smith, LCSW, True North Solutions
It’s been all over the news. Various celebrity deaths associated with the overdose of opioids — primarily, heroin. Opioids are prescription medications, such as Vicodin, codeine, Oxycontin, and morphine, usually used to treat pain. There is also an opioid used that is produced and sold illegally called heroin. These medications, taken for long periods (with a prescription or off the street) or by taking more than is prescribed, can be very addictive. Misused, opioids can produce a euphoric effect but can also lead to overdose. Symptoms of opioid overdose include: slow breathing, loss of consciousness, unresponsive, and pale/clammy skin. In addition, there are many risks associated with the misuse of opioids. These risks include: increased rates of HIV and hepatitis C through injection drug use, increased legal issues, and high costs to individuals and families (direct and indirect). These drugs are available to everyone — not just to celebrities or to certain groups of people. Dependence to opioids affects all kinds of people, of all genders, races, and ages, in all communities.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “In 2011, 4.2 million Americans aged 12 or older (or 1.6 percent) had used heroin at least once in their lives. It is estimated that about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it.” Dependence to opioids has become a growing problem not only in the United States, but also in Illinois. Recently, lawmakers in Illinois created a task force to address the heroin epidemic in our state. According to WMBD, in a story they did on the Face of Heroin in Central Illinois in April of this year, 15 of the 49 deaths in Peoria County related to illicit drugs and prescription medications were from heroin use.
Once a person becomes dependent on opioids, stopping it can become unbearable. Although generally not life threatening, withdrawal associated with opioid dependence is serious and very uncomfortable. According to the Substance Aubse and Mental Health Services Administration TIP 45, signs and symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal include: fast pulse, sweating, enlarged pupils, yawning, tearing, runny nose, cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bone/muscle pain, and anxiety.
There are a number of resources available to those wishing to stop their use of opioids and/or prevent overdose. The medication, nalaxone, is given to prevent or reverse the effects of opioid overdose. Nalaxone has been used by emergency personnel for many years but with the growing number of deaths associated with withdrawal, is now available to the general public with brief training on how to use it.
Fortunately, recovery from opioid addiction is possible. In addition to self-help groups and inpatient treatment options, there are a number of outpatient treatment services available. With the use of medicated assisted treatment (MAT), individuals can increase their probability of success in recovery and return to living a life without opioid dependence. Medications commonly used to treat opioid dependence include methadone, Suboxone, and naltrexone. These medications work by reducing withdrawal symptoms and reducing the cravings people experience for opioids.
For more information about treatment options and other medications used to help with opioid addiction and/or overdose, contact your doctor or True North Solutions at 309-589-1011 or visit www.truenorthsolutions.org.
True North Solutions offers outpatient treatment for opiate dependence. Chrissy Smith is a licensed clinical social worker at True North Solutions. Chrissy provides a variety of services for adults and children. She specializes in anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and children.
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