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
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.”
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.”
About Today’s Guest Blogger: Bill Weiss
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.
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