When you work in a recovery center, you do not just read about the Opioid epidemic in our area, you have daily, face to face contact with addicts in every stage of recovery. I want to share with you some things we address and why seeking help is crucial to your survival in overcoming the epidemic that has plagued North Fulton County.
What does an Opioid Addict look like?
Before you put a label on anyone, I can assure you that they look just like any other person. They look like your Spouse, your teacher, your friend, your co-worker, your boss. Believe it or not, they can also look like your Doctor, Dentist, Lawyer, Banker, Realtor and sadly, even your child. Opioid addicts are not criminals lurking in the shadows. They are the people you live with it, work with and trust in.
As a matter of fact, opioid addicts often self-medicate, in fear of being discovered and losing their high-status images in our community.
When we break this cycle, through rational cognitive thinking techniques and recovery methods, we realize that hiding our addiction is not good for ourselves or the people we serve. You want the professionals in your life to be clean and sober when they treat you. You want to know our family members and friends are who you believe them to be. You must realize that self-medication with an opioid drug is a safe bet means of destroying your life as you know it. Seeking help will not destroy your life or reputation. It will save it.
How did this become an epidemic?
In most cases, it started with an injury, a surgery, a chronic pain condition that required a prescription pain medication as a means of temporary pain relief. It can take as little as a few days to become addicted to a prescription pain medication. Often in cases of chronic pain, the patient will be prescribed medication repeatedly, making it impossible to beat the addiction cycle. Adolescents that later become addicted to prescription pain medications, often claim that the first time they were introduced to the drug was when they had their wisdom teeth removed. Adults often turn to opioids for relief of chronic back and joint pain, migraines and MH issues such as depression, anxiety, and trauma.
In our group sessions, we often discuss the false security that drugs bring to us in the beginning stages. Common comments include:
"I am just getting old, my body hurts. I am fine if I take my Vicodin."
"I had a horrible thing happen to me. I can not deal with it. I self-medicate to dull the pain."
"I had back surgery and it did nothing to ease my pain. My only alternative is pain medication."
"I had my wisdom teeth removed and they gave me Demerol for the pain. What a great feeling! I want to feel like that all the time."
It is easy to get hooked and extremely difficult to quit. Eventually, you will get ‘cut off’ from the painkillers. The Doctor will stop writing the scripts, flag you in the system as an opioid abuser and leave you with some hard choices to make. You feel you are still in pain, you have convinced yourself that you cannot live without pain relief medication. You are determined to mask this pain by any means possible. What happens next? You seek out friends and family that may have some old scripts sitting around the house. You start hunting for drugs. When friends stop answering their phone, you hit the street for a secret source.
Prescription pain meds are a big seller on the black market and they are easy to find. Beware! They are often fake, laced and illegal. This is the point in addiction when you cross the line from legal drugs, prescribed to you by a Doctor to illegal street drugs. You are now breaking the law and on a fast track to legal and health issues that you may not be able overcome.
Most people in recovery will agree that looking back over the course of their opioid addiction, they wish they had spent their time dealing with their real issues and not masking them with drug use. In the end, you still have the original set of circumstances to address. By succumbing to drug use, you have added a mountain of financial, health and possibly legal issues to your life that could be avoided.
What are signs to look out for?
The most common physical and behavioral signs of opiate abuse are:
Needle marks on arms and legs from intravenous (injected) use
Constricted, “pinpoint” pupils
Having trouble staying awake, or falling asleep at inappropriate times
Flushed, itchy skin
Withdrawing from social activities that were once enjoyed
Sudden and dramatic mood swings that seem out of character
Impulsive actions and decision-making
Engaging in risky activities, such as driving under the influence
Visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain more prescriptions
Immediate Side Effects of Opiates
Short-term side effects of opioid painkillers depend on the type of drug, how much of the substance is taken and how it is administered. The effects of these drugs typically occur within 15 to 30 minutes and may last up to several hours.
The immediate side effects of painkiller use include:
Slowed and shallow breathing
Itchy, flushed skin
Opiates, such as heroin, and prescription pain pills like Vicodin, are psychoactive drugs that directly affect the region of the brain that regulates breathing. Along with respiratory depression, two additional signs of an opiate overdose include small, contracted pupils and unconsciousness.
Respiratory depression, being the most alarming symptom, is the last to occur in the opioid overdose triad. Breathing will become erratic, and shallow. If the person’s condition is not addressed, breathing may completely cease.
If you or anyone you know is at risk from Opioid addiction, please contact DecisionPoint Wellness Center for a free consultation. There is no shame in seeking help and the professionals at DP can assist no matter what stage of addiction you are in.