The Reality Behind Opioid Addiction
Addiction is cunning, baffling, and powerful. Anyone who has been close to an addict or has been in the grips of addiction themselves would likely agree. One of the most devastating addictions, addiction to opioids, is on the rise and the statistics are alarming.
Prescription opioids are commonly prescribed to treat pain, and they can be a gateway into the use of other opioids, most commonly heroin. In 2014, over 240 million prescriptions were written for opioids according to the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s enough prescriptions to give every American adult their own bottle… and then some.
How did we get to this point? Millions of people get addicted to pain medication through pill mills, where doctors prescribe pain medications for cash. At pill mills, patients are able to choose their own medication, no questions asked. Prescription opioids are very similar to heroin on a molecular level, and they also have similar effects. So when these addicts can no longer obtain the pain medications they’ve come to depend on, many turn to heroin. In fact, four out of five heroin addicts reported previous painkiller abuse.
Heroin is a street drug that lacks the predictability of prescription opioids. It varies in strength, leading to overdoses, and there’s always a chance heroin is laced with other drugs. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S., and overdose rates and deaths have been on the rise. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, there were 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Nearly 40 percent were related to prescription pain relievers, 64 percent of which were related to heroin. Overdose deaths among women have tripled in the last few years.
Where do we go from here? Addiction is complex, and treating it is no easy feat. It’s a chronic and relapsing disease that has many layers to it. It helps to think of addiction as an onion. The first layer that needs to be removed is the substance that is being abused, or in the case of process addictions, a compulsion or behavior. Underneath that layer are all of the things that fed the addiction, and family dysfunction is often at the core.
At Feinberg Addiction Services, we have found that treating addiction should not be viewed as a one-way-treats-all approach. Treatment plans that are customized to meet an individual’s specific needs have been proven to be the most effective way of treating addiction. Our treatment plans are also family-centered. We coach family members to become empowered participants in their loved one’s recovery process (and their own), which helps them see the ways in which they may have enabled an addiction.
Long-term treatment is proven to be the most effective approach, as it provides the addict and his or her family the support necessary for healing to occur as the layers are peeled away. And in order for long-term recovery to be possible, all of the layers of the onion must be peeled back and addressed.