SunCloud Health offers integrative, intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization for adolescents and adults of all genders – “Supporting your desire to live free from self-destructive behavior as you embark on a life long journey of recovery”.

Worried About Opioid Abuse? What You Should Know About The Prescription Pain Medications Your Loved Ones May Be Taking

If you’re concerned about someone you know who is taking opioids right now, then you are not alone.

In every community across the nation, more and more people are becoming addicted to prescription drugs meant to relieve discomfort. Ironically, these drugs often lead to the pain and anguish of opioid addiction – which all too often ends in overdose and death.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta have released chilling statistics that show the scope of the problem. From 2015 to 2016, opioid overdoses have risen an astounding 100 percent, and the deaths associated with them have reached an all-tie high.

In many communities, local morgues can’t take the bodies in fast enough. Hospitals and substance abuse treatment centers are stocking up on Naloxone and Narcan, drugs that have proven effective in treating overdoses. But many addicts who end up overdosing do not seek medical help because they fear being arrested and charged with illegal drug use.

To make matters worse, the cost of anti-overdose meds is also rising, and drug makers can’t keep up with the demand. This puts cities and towns in a tough position as they try to stem the tide of lethal overdoses.

UNDERSTANDING A NATIONAL CRISIS IN OPIOID USE

At SunCloud Health, we are just as concerned as you are about the misuse of opioid medications. Dr. Kim has written about the classification of pain, noting that many doctors have unwittingly fueled opioid overdose statistics by prescribing these medications when other pain management solutions might work equally well.

In recent months, we’ve learned even more about the factors contributing to the epidemic and we are convinced that serious action is needed to turn this trend around.

Every day, opioid overdose statistics show up in the news reports we hear and see. Our families, friends and neighbors are affected. CDC figures show that more than 1,000 Americans end up in emergency rooms every single day with symptoms of an opioid overdose. There is no question that the problem has reached epidemic proportions.

The issue has grown worse in the last 10 years as physicians and clinics have overprescribed opioids for pain of all kinds. It is generally known that some patients are more vulnerable to opioid addiction, yet there is no simple test that will help doctors predict who will get hooked and who won’t. As a result, scripts often end up in the hands of those who are most likely to become dependent.

The website Drugabuse.org 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
  • Around 80% of current heroin users originally started with prescription meds.

BIG PHARMA’S ROLE IN THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC

In the 1990s, 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 are 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, feeding the larger crisis.

OPIOIDS ARE AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY KILLER

Substance abuse experts are studying national patters to understand 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. College attendance and graduation rates are low in these areas too, reflecting a picture of economic hardship and underachievement.

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, power and education are no protection from the addictive power of these dangerous drugs.

HOW TO HELP SOMEONE YOU LOVE

If you or someone you care about is taking prescription opioids right now, there are several things you can do to ensure they do not suffer alone.

First, look for signs that your loved one is in trouble. This helpful guide from the Mayo Clinic is a good place to start.

Next, find a loving and 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 you suspect that a friend or family member can’t stop using prescription meds or has moved on to illegal drug use, call the experts at SunCloud Health right now. Your call is 100% confidential – and we will help you find the support your friend or family member needs to start down the road to recovery.

A Positive Step in Curbing Opiate Addiction

Everyone knows the drill: within seconds of entering a doctor’s office for a routine check-up, someone sticks a thermometer in your ear, pumps up a blood pressure cuff, records your respiratory rate and takes note of your heart rate.

These are your vital signs; if any one of your vitals is abnormal it serves as an indicator that there may be an active illness or disease state present.

Although the four vital signs were the standard of care for decades, in the 1990’s, level of pain was added as the fifth as part of a Veterans Administration initiative and became a Joint Commission standard in 2002. One problem at the outset with this movement is that pain, which is subjective, was referred to as a “sign.” Signs on the other hand, can be measured objectively, like the four original vital signs in medicine. If a thermometer indicates that the temperature is 96, then that’s what it is.

Regarding pain, the patient reports subjectively a number to rate their experience of it, typically between one and ten. Unfortunately, instead of taking the appropriate steps to determine the underlying cause of the pain or considering other alternatives, many doctors simply write a prescription for opiates; they do so without informing the patient, or even being aware themselves, of the risks involved with taking pain medication.

It has long been believed that this subjective assignment to pain and the doctor’s willingness to supply opiates is a contributing factor in today’s epidemic of pain killer abuse.

The American Medical Association (AMA), our nation’s largest medical society, seemingly agrees and now recommends dropping pain as a vital sign.

To its credit, the organization admits to culpability in this nationwide problem, saying physicians played a key role in starting the opioid epidemic by overprescribing pain medication, and now must do their part to end it. Another large piece of the problem is the lack of addiction training in medical schools and residency training programs across the country.

By improving physician training, improving prescribing practices, raising patient awareness through honestly describing risks and benefits of pain medication in the informed consent process, we can positively impact the opioid epidemic that is killing hundreds of thousands of Americans unnecessarily. Moreover, we can do so in a way that protects access to opioid pain management for those people for whom these medications are truly appropriate.

Addiction…A Choice?

Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a medical illness, a disease of the brain. And yet, there are those who continue to insist that substance addiction is a choice.

Several weeks ago, Matthew Perry, who portrayed Chandler Bing on the highly successful Friends sitcom, traveled to the UK to lend assistance to a new drug program involving the courts. While there, he appeared on a television show alongside journalist and anti-drug campaigner Peter Hitchens. A heated debate ensued.

Regarding his own addiction, Perry said, “I’m a drug addict and if I have a drink I can’t stop… if I think about alcohol, I cannot stop.”

Hitchens responded: “People have problems with drugs and drink. People like taking them and don’t want to stop. It doesn’t mean they have a disease.”

“Don’t want to stop?” How about the truth: so many addicts desperately want to never use again, but they can’t stop. Why? Because they are addicted, physiologically as well as psychologically.

Saying that a person addicted to drugs can “just stop” is like telling a diabetic they can simply toss out that insulin and be fine. That person will not be fine – that person will die.

Addicts don’t have a choice about whether or not they have an addiction, their choice is not in whether or not they have the disease but in whether or not they are willing to get the help they need on a daily basis to recover.

The “functional” addict

One of my favorite things to talk about with patients is their perspectives on functional alcoholism or addiction — whether in their own selves, their parents, or others in authority such as bosses, or the President. I ask with a curious mind, what is the definition of functional? Most people define functional as the ability to keep a job, show up at work, and even succeed professionally. Sometimes people mention the ability to show up at home or for social events. This is one way people defend themselves against the pain of acknowledging what they missed out on — the subtle, or not so subtle, cravings of their soul for nourishment that were left unmet.

Never has a patient answered me by defining functional as “being consistently emotionally and spiritually available.” The impact of active addiction on the soul and on emotional well-being is usually not considered.

We now have research from neurobiology on the impact of active addiction on our higher level cognitive functioning; animals that are “addicted” show a transfer of behavioral control from more highly evolved cortex of their brains to the dorsal striatum (less developed, reptilian brain). Scientists believe we will find the same in addicted humans.

We might consider what all of this means for us as a nation — we who chose a President who may be dependent on nicotine. Could he be an even better leader, think with a sharper mind, feel with a stronger soul, and breathe with clearer lungs without the cigarette?

Most people I know with addictive disorders are highly talented, creative and special people. Some are perfectionists, many are overachievers. The sad fact for every “functional” addict is that we will never know what his or her true potential is. In recovery, this potential does have the potential to be realized.

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