By Deborah Brosseau
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared opioid abuse in the country a public health emergency. Even with its five point plan to combat this crisis, which included funneling $458 million into prevention and treatment, opioids are still killing an alarming number of Americans.
Data from the Center for Disease Control are jaw-dropping. Drug overdose deaths, in general, have risen across sex, races, and adult age groups. Opioids are involved in two out of every three drug overdose deaths. In 2017, that was more than 47,000 people (about 130 people every day).
The opioid crisis has quite a sordid foundation. Before we get to that, let’s define our terminology. Heroin, morphine, and codeine are examples of opiates. They are derived naturally from the opium poppy plant. Opioid is more of an umbrella term under which opiates fall, as well as synthetic substances that link to the brain’s opioid receptors. Fentanyl, hydrocodone, and oxycodone are examples of synthetic opioids.
Pharmaceutical companies assured medical professionals that opioid-based prescription pain killers could not be addictive. They became a go-to drug for everything from sprained ankles to post-surgery to repetitive stress injuries. While it became apparent the drugs were, in fact, incredibly addictive, the prescriptions continued to be written, filled, rewritten, and refilled.
What tends to happen next is where the crisis comes in. More than 20% of patients misuse opioids, and approximately 10% develop opioid use disorder. Because it’s cheaper and more accessible, approximately 5% of people who misuse opioids start to use heroin. Currently, the illicitly-manufactured fentanyl market is especially problematic. Other tentacles of the crisis include misuse during pregnancy which also leads to neonatal problems and the spread of infectious diseases.
So that’s the bad news. The good news is that there is recovery to be found from opiate and opioid addiction.
On a broader scale, government health departments like the CDC are working with pharmaceutical manufacturers, healthcare practitioners, researchers, and recovery professionals to create new guidelines for pain management, addiction, and recovery. These include developing safe, effective, and non-addictive chronic pain management strategies, finding new medications and technologies to treat opioid use disorders and aid recovery, and improving overdose prevention and reversal interventions.
Social support is important to opioid recovery. Engaging as many trusted family members and friends as possible to be on your team allows for both understanding and accountability. Support groups in and out of treatment centers offer communal advice, concern, and reflection.
Commitment to long-term treatment is a healthy mindset to be in when recovering from opioid addiction. In order to build a solid sober foundation and learn new, healthy, and safe coping techniques and life skills, we need time. Time plus a good care team.
Finding alternative means to manage pain is also piece of the recovery puzzle. In consultation with your care team, you might find that one or more of these options work: physical therapy, weight loss, exercise (including yoga), heat/ice, electrical nerve stimulation, or acupuncture. Mindfulness practices like meditation and hypnosis can also relax the body.
Some self-determined actions include: setting goals for your recovery and writing them down, safely discarding of drugs from your home, car, or office, stay busy (healthy distraction is a coping skill), and celebrate your daily victories.
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