The Sudden and Real Dangers of Opiate Addiction

Being an advocate for the addicted involves understanding the costs of addiction. Today’s guest blogger provides an insight into the reality of America’s substance abuse. MWM

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Millions of people across the world, over 300,000 in the U.S. alone, are addicted to the class of drugs derived from the poppy flower made famous in the Wizard of Oz. In 2015, over 33,000 Americans lost their lives due to opiates such as heroin, Vicodin and fentanyl. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has declared an Opiate Epidemic and has organized efforts with other government agencies to intercept the growing supply of illicit street opiates and to curb the dangerous over-prescribing of opiate-based pain pills.

Young People are Vulnerable to Opiate Addiction

One of the greatest dangers associated with opioid drug addiction is the body’s ability to quickly develop a tolerance to the drug and in turn the body’s increased dependence on the drug to function. People who take prescribed opiate-based pain medications like Vicodin and people who use illegal street drugs like heroin have the greatest risk of addiction.

For those taking doctor-ordered pain medication, length of time using the drug, accessibility, low-income and previous alcohol and drug use are high-risk factors. Benzodiazepines, like Valium and Xanax, depress the central nervous system and are often associated with death from opioid overdose.

Astonishingly, young adults aged 18 to 25 are becoming the fastest growing group of addicts”

Illicit opiate addiction is often preceded by other addictions and affects people from all walks of life and ages. Astonishingly, young adults aged 18 to 25 are becoming the fastest growing group of addicts. In the early 2000s young adult addiction rates hovered around five percent. By 2015, though, that number jumped over ten percent.

Perhaps the most frightening part of all is the prescription opioid abuse can lead to heroin addiction. The majority of heroin addicts aged 12 to 21 years old report having first used prescription pills. Without awareness and a certain vigilance in treating our youth for opiate addiction, the addiction can progress into more dangerous drugs.

The Cost of Addiction

In the United States, opiate abuse and addiction are responsible for over $78 billion in healthcare cost, legal costs and lost productivity. More importantly, the high cost of addiction includes tens of thousands of lost lives through overdose, financial ruin and loss of quality of life. Individuals, families and whole communities are negatively affected. The danger of addiction touches the ones closest to those struggling with addiction.

In November, 2016, Niki Hamilton, a Canadian who struggled with years of heroin addiction, lost her life after overdosing on drugs laced with fentanyl. Eight days later, her grieving brother also died of an opiate overdose. Their father, Alex Hamilton who also suffers from an opiate addiction, said he believes his son took his own life or was careless after losing his sister.

Today, deaths from drug overdose is twice that of motor vehicle accidents”

Less than 15 years ago, car accidents were responsible for more than twice as deaths than drug overdoses. Today, deaths from drug overdose is twice that of motor vehicle accidents. Opioid overdoses in particular have increased more that any other class of drugs, with heroin accounting for more than two-thirds of opiate-related fatalities. In 2015, over 33,000 opioid-related deaths compared to over 52,000 total drug overdose deaths.

Hidden Dangers of Illegal Opiates

In 2016, four teenagers overdosed in one rural West Virginian town during a weekend of celebration. Each one ingested drugs they thought was Ecstacy, or MDMA. While expecting the experience of euphoria and energy, the teens went into cardiac arrest and died due to fatal mixture of opiates and synthetic fentanyl. In May, 2016, law enforcement officers in Ohio seized over 500 counterfeit pills that were marked as 30 milligram oxycodone pharmaceuticals but actually turned out to be research chemical U-47700. The chemical, an experimental synthetic opioid, has never been tested in humans and has been responsible for several fatalities in the United States. Increased access to chinese-imported chemicals used in the production of street synthetic opioids is attributed in the huge increase in opiate overdoses. Also, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) attributes more distribution to rural and suburban areas as a large factor in increased opiate use and fatalities.

CDC officials have also directly attributed the dramatic increase of opioid overdose deaths to the increase of illicit fentanyl. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is often mixed or cut with heroin to increase potency. In 2016, the DEA reported “hundreds of thousands of counterfeit pills have been entering the U.S. drug market since 2014, some containing deadly amounts of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.”

Ending Addiction

Overcoming an opioid addiction is a mental and physical battle that can be won. Once the body becomes dependent on opioids, withholding the drug results in extremely uncomfortable and often unbearable withdrawal symptoms. For several days to a week, people may experience severe anxiety, intense cramps, fever, nausea, and diarrhea. Each individual’s degree of withdrawal depends on a lot of factors. Weight, physical health, psychological state, length of time in addiction and frequency of use are only a few of the major issues that affect difficulty with opiate and heroin withdrawal.

Recovery from addiction includes a post-acute withdrawal stage. During this phase, individuals may experience mood disturbed sleep, anger or anxiety. Symptoms may last anywhere from a few weeks to months depending on each case and personal health goals. Risk of suicide is highest during this healing phase as the body’s fluctuating neurochemical levels create extreme mood swings and depression. A strong support network and access to resources facilitates faster recovery and affects each individual’s opiate withdrawal timeline.

Seeking Recovery for the Addict and the Family

Withdrawal symptoms are rough, but they are not the only part of ending an addiction. It is important to surround yourself with support during this time as the psychological ramifications are as detrimental as the physical. The addict will likely need a strong support network that fully understands the process of withdrawal. Without this, relapse is a greater threat as recovery becomes an isolating experience.

The family of the addict must create a support network for recovery, as well. There will be moments during the recovery process that can seem so dark and so hopeless. During those time it is especially important to have access to resources and people that may be able to help pull them through. Addiction affects not only the addict but also everyone within the addict’s network. As such, recovery becomes a group effort with each individual requiring care throughout the process.

While some of the dangers of opiate addiction seem obvious, there are hidden dangers everyone should be aware of. The CDC plans to increase public awareness through education, provide more resources for treatment and early detection of overdose outbreaks. “It is important for the public to understand the present dangers of this epidemic that is claiming an increasing number of lives due to more potent street drugs, misinformation and other long-standing issues we must address within our government and communities.”

Sources:

https://www.dea.gov/divisions/hq/2016/hq072216.shtml
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/fentanyl-linked-deaths-regina-1.3868767

http://www.asam.org/docs/advocacy/societal-costs-of-prescription-opioid-abuse-dependence-and-misuse-in-the-united-states.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

https://www.dea.gov/divisions/hq/2016/hq072216.shtml

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/how-bad-is-the-opioid-epidemic/

http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20161004/risk-of-opioid-addiction-up-37-percent-among-young-us-adults

http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/counseling-and-addiction-how-therapy-can-help#1

About Today’s Guest Blogger: Bill Weiss      

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Bill is an advocate for long-term recovery, as well as being in recovery himself. He feels it is important to share addiction information with the public to educate them about substance abuse.

 

If you want to learn more:

unitingrecovery.com
455 NE 5th ave suite d478, Delray Beach, Florida

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2017 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

Guest Blog: Becoming a Professional with a Focus on Helping Young Men – Part 1 of 3

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Today’s guest blog post is by Drew Horowitz, MA, LADC, RAS, a Twin Cities-based substance use and mental health professional. Welcome to the #OYACommunity, and thank you for sharing a three-part series with our readers.

As a professional in the field of addiction, I have the privilege of helping individuals and families navigate the road to recovery. I feel grateful everyday to carry the message of hope. In my first post I will be sharing my story of recovery and how my addiction took me from the depths of despair to a place of strength and freedom. It was my experience as an addict that launched me into a place of passion to educate, prevent and treat the disease of addiction.

Experiencing Addiction

I have seen addiction from several different perspectives. As an adolescent and teenager I watched my mother lose herself to addiction. I spent many nights carrying her to bed and endless days cleaning up the aftermath of her substance use.

The disease of addiction robbed my life as a kid.

In 2003 my mother lost her battle with substances and died an, “accidental death.”

The combination of grieving the loss of my mother and the pressures of young adulthood left me open minded to methods of relief. In the process, I discovered drugs, particularly cocaine, and found the affects to be incredibly pleasurable. The relief I found in using cocaine was amazing.

In a short period of time I was using it daily. I had no idea that in the next several years my life would become empty.

Breakthrough

On January 9, 2008, I sat on the floor of my NYC studio apartment. I stared blankly at the ground and questioned the benefits of taking my own life. At 26 years old, I was a broken young man. My apartment was silent, messy and smelled of stale smoke. Beer cans and cigarette butts littered the floor. I had been heavily abusing illicit drugs, alcohol and prescription pills. In just two years, I had lost 33lbs, become addicted to 4 different substances and blown through every last dollar I had. I had isolated myself into a 400 square foot room and often times did not leave for days on end.

My relationships with friends and family were non-existent. My ability to function as a human being had vanished.

The only thing keeping me alive was my 3-year-old Boston terrier named Emma. By now, Emma looked at me with disbelief and disgust.

Reaching out to my Dad

As the hopelessness grew and the thoughts of suicide increased, I felt the presence of my father.

I recall him telling me that when I was ready, he would be there. I made the call that changed my life.

Two days later I was admitted to Hazelden in Center City, Minn., for treatment.

Within a short amount of time, I would learn how to live a sober life with unimaginable happiness. I would have relationships and feel a sense of belonging.

My purpose for living would change and I would know what it’s like to help other people.

For the first time ever, I felt like the person I wanted to be.

The Desire to Help Other People

Within a few months of being sober, I knew I wanted to help people. I was hungry to work in the human services field and felt highly motivated to support people in their recovery. After nearly 10 rejections for employment, I was offered a very entry-level position at a company called Supportive Living Services, in Brooklyn Park, Minn. With no training or education on addiction, Supportive Living Services took a chance and created an opportunity for me.

My sole purpose was designed to tell their existing clients about my experience with mental health and substance abuse and how I found a new way of living. They called this role a “peer support specialist.”

Sharing My Story

For the next 4 years I worked diligently throughout the metropolitan area, sharing my story and helping individuals get the help they needed. It was ideal, enjoyable and rewarding. I was slowly promoted to a more clinical role, however never lost my title as peer support specialist. No matter what type of position I was advanced to, I still told my story to clients to give them hope.

During my 3rd year at Supportive Living Services, I enrolled at The Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies. I spent two years educating myself about addiction and learning about the illness from an entirely new perspective – a professional perspective. I grew as a professional, but even more as a person. Having the personal experience in conjunction with the master’s level education provided me an opportunity to maximize my ability to help people. After nearly 5 years of working with Supportive Living Services, I knew it was time to move on. If I were to grow, I would need to challenge myself and continue learning.

Recognizing the Unique Needs of Young Men with Substance Abuse and Mental Health Needs

I saw a serious need for education, prevention, mentorship and guidance for young men struggling with addiction and mental health. I saw young men living with parents at age 25 after dropping out of college.

I saw these same young men turn to substances as the method to cope with anxiety and depression.

I saw young men losing hope in their selves because they could not live up to their parent’s expectations. But most of all, I saw myself. I saw lost boys living in a young man’s body.

A sizable portion of young men and women face mental health and addiction problems. The percentage of addicted young adults seeking treatment has risen steadily.

Many have been in treatment before and relapsed. Too many leave treatment against medical advice, usually driven by an addiction to opiates or a sense of overconfidence.

Families despair that their children will be lost before they can really begin to live.

The Boomerang Generation

Often dubbed the “boomerang generation” or part of a “failure to launch” epidemic, these young men often are part of the 29 percent of young adults who have moved back in with their parents and the 22 percent of young adults who report current illicit drug use.

In particular, young males are at greater risk for mental health disorders and addiction. At a critical period of their lives, they face extreme pressure from society, peers, families and themselves to “have a plan.”

These young men often struggle to establish their own identity and can occur as a result of “feeling caught” developmentally between adolescence and young adulthood.

Many do not have the tools needed to cope or deal with the pressures they face. As a result, many young men find themselves battling mental health disorders and addiction.

This group represents unique challenges for their families as well as mental health and addiction professionals. Successful treatment requires a different approach that addresses not only the addiction but also the underlying mental health issues. Additionally, treatment needs to be individualized and custom to the person receiving care. Too often, the incoming patient becomes a “number” as opposed a “person”. Lastly, the person needs to have a voice in their treatment. The young adult already feels a sense of worthlessness and lack of autonomy will increase the chances of a relapse.

The Decision to Focus my Practice

For these reasons, in August of 2014, I started my company, Drew Horowitz & Associates, LLC, an organization designed to assist young men who struggle to overcome addiction and mental health. Our philosophy and approach is built on a person-centered, individualized and strength-based model, which builds on people positive attributes as opposed to weakness. We strongly believe that people recover and seek the help they need once a relationship is formed and trust is established between a practitioner and client. Change is only made once the client realizes that their goals do not align with the way they are living their life. People who are sick respond better with empathy and support versus confrontation and punishment. We help individuals and family navigate the rocky road of recovery.

My professional practice follows a specific guideline that I believe is instrumental to helping this struggling population. My personal story of recovery gives me the strength to fight for each patient and never lose hope in his ability to recover.

Upcoming Guest Blog Posts

In my next two posts I will discuss intervention and treatment and how these stages relate to the young adult male. Can intervention be done in a less aggressive and person-centered approach? Or do we need to use leverage as an alternative to getting young men into treatment? And, how do we alter treatment with this vulnerable population? What type of treatment provides best outcomes? All questions I will explain over the next several weeks.

Drew Horowitz, MA, LADC, RAS, has a vast range of experiences working with addiction and mental health. He gained a wealth of knowledge through his own recovery coupled with extensive training: a master’s level education from the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction and an undergraduate degree in psychology and human development from Hofstra University. Following a career with several substance abuse and mental health organizations, he formed Drew Horowitz & Associates, LLC, an organization designed to assist young men who struggle to overcome addiction and mental health.

Contact Drew:

http://drewhorowitzassociates.com/

horowitzassociates@gmail.com

651-698-7358

#TBT – The First Four Columns on Parenting a Young Addict

Midwestern Mama started writing about her son’s addiction in November 2011. Even in the throes of chaos, she wanted to share experiences, resources and hopes for parents and professionals. #TBT will feature past columns.

Throw Back Thursday or #TBT is an online phenomenon. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the past, and hopefully gain perspective on the present. I’ve decided to post some of the early columns that I wrote for the St. Paul Pioneer Press that chronicle our family’s experience with parenting a young person addicted to drugs.

PioneerPress Minn Moms – First Four Columns

B Minus or A Plus – Grade This Essay

The youngest member of Midwestern Mama’s family writes about his brother’s substance use disorder.

When someone in the family is using drugs, it’s only a matter of time before one person’s problem becomes everyone’s problem. Our youngest son is 15 years old, a freshman in high school, and he recently wrote a “coming of age” essay for his English class where he talked about growing up with an addict brother.

He was nine years old when his brother began using drugs. For a year or two, he likely didn’t notice much, but by fifth grade we couldn’t hide it from him, nor did we want to. It was the year that things started to implode and it was the year that his class would participate in D.A.R.E. We believed it was important that he understood the chaos (in an age-appropriate manner) and to let this experience shape his own future choices, behaviors and attitudes towards drugs.

As we tried to work with our older son to move him toward treatment, we also worked hard at helping his younger brother and older sister process things. We talked openly with them, asked for their impressions and ideas, and we encouraged them to talk with a counselor or attend Ala-non or Ala-teen to put things in perspective. They saw us at our best and at our worst. They saw us for who we are.

One day our youngest was particularly distraught. In his recent essay, he wrote: “My life was ridiculously hard for a fifth grader.”

He knew that I had been working with a therapist to help myself manage the emotional roller coaster of parenting a kid with substance use disorder, so I offered to let the two of them meet and chat. It seemed to help little brother embrace the idea that he didn’t have to go through this alone and that there might be merit in talking with someone other than his family members – someone more objective and trained at these sensitive topics.

The next day, our youngest went to his school counselor. They hit it off, and she shared with him that she had a sibling with a substance use disorder. For the next couple of years, he would talk with her whenever things felt out of control, and through these conversations, a middle-schooler worked his way through some tough, scary, emotional times.

Just how did he feel during fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades? His essay reveals: “D.A.R.E made my problems even worse. I already knew a lot about what drugs did to the body because I had seen what they did to my brother.” He went on to say: “My brother’s problems affected my life in many ways. I (wanted) to be his friend … it was difficult to do so when he constantly was high or on the crash from drugs.”

They essay continued to talk about all the times when his brother had stolen his wallet, when he was homeless and his hygiene deteriorated – “He would smell like rotten apple dipped in crap drizzled in vinegar,” — when he was arrested for underage public intoxication, when he went to treatment but ran away … In just a few pages, my youngest son detailed the many low points he witnessed during his brother’s active addiction.

He concluded his essay by writing: “Knowing all I’ve been through is scary. The purpose of writing this (essay) was to (say) people have crazy family problems. I am outgoing and energetic, but deep inside, I still have problems. The best thing I learned through this experience is to stay strong. Talk to friends and counselors. Don’t let your problems overcome who you truly are. You are allowed to be affected by these tough moments in life, and at times you will feel worthless. Stay strong and it will get better. If life doesn’t have ups and downs, you’re (not really living).”

Little brother’s essay was as heartfelt and honest as anything I’ve ever read. It was also full of insight and perspective. I give it an A-Plus. His teacher, however, because the essay was riddled with typos, punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors, gave it a B-Minus.

Oh, well. I’m glad there’s another writer in the family who is willing to share this story – a story that has impacted each family member and a story that has had dark chapters, and now, over the past seven months of sobriety, is changing to chapters that are becoming increasingly bright.

Midwestern Mama with excerpts from her youngest son.

Let #Gratitude2014 Continue!

Midwestern Mama recaps the past week of #Gratitude2014 posts. 

At this time last year, our son was in desperate shape, and it was getting worse.  At age 21, he was several years into drug addiction, and he was homeless, penniless and jobless.  He was, however, softening to the idea of treating his depression and anxiety, and a wise, young counselor directed him toward in-patient dual-diagnosis treatment as the first course of action. Fortunately, when funding became available and a bed opened up, our son went and this time he stuck it out for the recommended time.  While a terrible relapse occurred a few months after that, he got back to treatment and recovery this summer.  As you can imagine, the transformation and positive possibilities ahead fill us with gratitude.

Here are some of the things I’ve identified this past week as part of Our Young Addicts “30 Days of Gratitude.”

Day 13: I am grateful that my son is starting to open up with us about his feelings and experiences.

Day 14: I am grateful for the opportunity to share my story with you.

Day 15: I am grateful that my son has nutritious food, a warm bed, a clean shower and fresh clothes these days.

Day 16: I am grateful that we recognized our son’s struggle and did everything we could to get him help, even though he resisted.

Day 17: I am grateful that my son’s siblings are a strong support system for him.

Day 18: I am grateful that my son is building a sober network of friends even though social anxiety makes it difficult.

Day 19: I am grateful that we are part of our son’s recovery, now and forever.

Day 20: I am grateful for all the stories that others have shared with me and the encouragement offered.

Please join us in looking for gratitude even in the darkest days.  Keep hoping and praying, and know that there is a community that cares.

Midwestern Mama