If you’re concerned about someone you know who is taking opioids for pain, then you are not alone.
Throughout the Chicago area and around the country, more and more people are becoming addicted to prescription drugs that are meant to relieve discomfort. Ironically, using these drug for even a short time can lead to opioid addiction – even when we’re following doctor’s orders to the letter.
You may have heard the chilling statistics confirming that opioid overdoses have risen 100 percent from 2015 to 2016. You can’t listen to a newscast without hearing about the mounting deaths. In some communities, local morgues can’t take the bodies in fast enough.
Hospitals and substance use treatment centers are stocking up on Naloxone and Narcan, drugs used to treat overdose victims. But many people who overdose don’t seek medical help because they’re afraid they’ll be arrested and thrown in jail.
Understanding the opioid crisis that surrounds us
Looking at these terrible trends, we’re just as worried as you are.
I’ve written before about the classification of pain, because I want it to be clear that doctors aren’t blameless in this situation. Many have unwittingly fueled the opioid overdose statistics by prescribing opioids when other pain management solutions might have worked just as well.
But with the Centers for Disease Control reporting that more than 1,000 Americans end up in emergency rooms every single day, we need to look beyond the causes and work together to find real solutions.
Why some of us shouldn’t take opioids at all
One challenge is figuring out who will have a problem with opioids and who won’t.
It’s clear that some patients are more vulnerable to opioid addiction, yet there is no simple test to help doctors predict who will get hooked. As a result, scripts often end up in the hands of people who are very likely to become dependent.
The website Drugabuse.gov reports that:
- Nearly 30% of patients who are taking prescription pain medications will become addicted to them.
- About 4% to 6% of those on prescription painkillers will eventually move to using illegal heroin instead.
- Around 80% of current heroin users originally started with prescription meds.
How big pharma contributed to the opioid epidemic
In the 1990’s, a surge of new prescriptions for opioids laid the groundwork for the current crisis. Doctors adopted new diagnostic scales to evaluate the level of discomfort their patients were feeling. Many believe that the makers of prescription pain medications pushed for these changes, directly contributing to the epidemic of opioid overdoses and deaths we’re seeing now.
The CDC says the opioid crisis came in 3 overwhelming waves:
- The first wave hit when a record number of Americans became addicted to the prescription pain medications their doctors gave them.
- The second wave came when prescription opioid addicts switched to heroin in record numbers, causing a new surge of addiction and deaths.
- The third wave came when fentanyl, a synthetic and often deadly form of heroin, hit the streets, further fueling the crisis.
Opioids don’t pick and choose their victims
All of us who work in health care are seeking answers, right along with you. We are reading the reports that show where resources and attention are needed most.
Opioid overdose statistics show the greatest number of deaths in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, all areas that suffer from high rates of unemployment, poverty and occupational disability.
Clearly, communities that struggle to provide a good quality of life are seeing higher levels of opioid addiction. But that doesn’t mean that people in more affluent areas are immune to the problem.
At SunCloud Health, we treat patients from all over the Chicago area. We know that wealth, influence and education are no protection from the addictive power of these dangerous drugs.
How to help someone you love who is struggling
If someone you care about is taking prescription opioids right now, don’t panic. Millions of people are able to use these medications without becoming addicted. However, you should take a closer look to ensure that things really are all right.
Look for signs that may indicate your loved one is in trouble. This helpful guide from the Mayo Clinic is a good place to start.
If you’re concerned, find a non-confrontational way to discuss what you see. Here are some very thoughtful tips from Sharon Osbourne, a wife, mother and performing artist who’s definitely been there. Sharon’s wisdom will give you many practical ways to open a conversation with your loved one.
Even if you don’t succeed in getting through to your loved one, you may need to take action. If it’s clear your loved one can’t stop using prescription meds, or s/he has moved on to illegal drug use, contact us right now. Your call or email message is 100% confidential and we’ll help you both find the help you need.
More than anything, please promise me you won’t blame yourself. You didn’t cause your loved one’s addiction. But you can provide the loving support they urgently need to begin recovering. So don’t put it off. Get in touch with us today.