Tag Archives: Heroin

The Heroin Epidemic Has Spread to Middle-Class Women

Female Heroin Use Middle Class Women - Fight Addiction Now

Women are dying from painkillers now more than any time in America’s history. Real people, true stories, harrowing destruction.

Charlotte’s Story

Charlotte* still has the track marks crawling up her arms. Her face has broken out with red bumps, and her bleach-blonde hair has grown the roots halfway out. She sits on a bench at a rehab facility in Arizona, picking at her bitten fingernails, unaware of the stares she’s getting from the seasoned patients.

Charlotte comes from a middle-class family, replete with a minivan, loving parents and a comfortable suburban lifestyle.

What has brought her to this state of fallen grace?

Charlotte’s boyfriend started selling Oxy in high school because the profits were so much higher than working in fast food restaurants like his peers. Over time, the boyfriend started using his own product, and so did his girlfriend.

The addiction took hold of Charlotte in less than a week, and the ecstasy and relief from the stress and insecurities felt by your average teenage girl was amazing. She felt like she needed more drugs around her menstrual cycles.

Dependence grew to tolerance, and tolerance grew to seeking more and more and stronger and stronger drugs. Before she knew it, our girl was shooting heroin with her boy behind the bleachers.

Now, in her late 20s, Charlotte awoke in her own vomit and soon found herself on an Arizona bench.

Charlotte survived, but more women than ever before in American history do not.

As women, we have an increased biological vulnerability to drugs. We get addicted much faster than our male counterparts, and we are affected by our hormones and a half dozen other factors. It’s not fair; it’s biology.

Mandi’s Story

A Californian mom of two beautiful teenage girls, Mandi* was rear ended by a drunk driver and sustained a shattered kneecap. The outrage and pain Mandi endures is still unbearable, years later.

“I was in so much anguish and anger, I couldn’t see straight,” she says.

Though Mandi went to counseling and was prescribed Percocet, her pain never completely went away. After only a few weeks of round-the-clock medicine, she was getting less relief with more pills. When Mandi had to quit her job due to the knee injury, she lost her health insurance.

Still suffering, Mandi had to find an alternative numbing product. What she found was that prescription drugs sold on the street are expensive and she couldn’t afford her habit.

The first time Mandi snorted the comparatively inexpensive drug heroin, she felt better than if she were smoking a fat joint or drinking cranberry vodkas. Snorting quickly turned to heroin injecting, which brought on shame and guilt. How could a woman with teenage daughters be shooting up?

Mandi was fearful of talking to her doctor about her heroin use. Like many of us moms who might find ourselves in similar circumstances, she worried she would be ostracized by others – or worse, that her children might be taken away by Child Protective Services.

The stigma around illicit drug abuse causes isolation, depression and creates a cycle of more drug use.

We can’t scream it loud enough: Women addicted to heroin are only human, regular people, no less worthy than other men and women who don’t have to suffer with the insidious disease of addiction.

Pill Mills Make It Too Easy

Pill mills are places that:

  • Take cash only.
  • Use their own pharmacy.
  • Let patients pick their own medicine, no questions asked.
  • Are illegal.

A recent study conducted by the U.S. Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Division found that narcotics are the second-most abused drug (just behind marijuana). These opioids rank above meth, cocaine, heroin and crack.

Controlled prescription drugs are accountable for tens of thousands more deaths due to poisoning than illicit drugs are. Many come from pill mills.

Female Heroin Use

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2004 and 2013, heroin and opioid use among women has increased at a rate twice that of men.

By 2013, a new type of female opioid user had emerged: a woman in college, a suburban mom, a working professional pulling in more than $60,000.

Women bear a heftier burden of emotional sensitivities and mental health issues like depression, trauma-related disorders and anxiety. Our brains are just wired differently.

This emotional make-up means women are more likely to be prescribed benzodiazepines and opioids.

Additionally, one in three women have experienced domestic violence. This type of trauma predisposes us to mental health issues and drug and alcohol abuse. Being hurt by the one you trust and love creates emotional scarring and scathing brain changes that endure long after the physical scarring dissipates.

Palliative Ponderings

Female Heroin Users - Fight Addiction NowIt is truly startling that this epidemic has crossed all demographic lines and spread its wrath among every income and social bracket.

If these stories and facts shock you, maybe they shouldn’t. Out of all of the heroin-addicted, middle-class suburban women, more than 75 percent of this group started with legal prescription opioids, reports the acclaimed JAMA Psychiatry journal.

Even though we are becoming more aware since the Trump-proclaimed national health emergency, it is hard to resist a drug that takes away your pain, physical and emotional. Sometimes, for women, the line between what is physical pain and what is emotional pain is blurry.

Women are particularly vulnerable to diseases like fibromyalgia, a disabling illness which causes both physical and emotional pain, including a host of other symptoms.

What Is Your Picture of a Heroin User?

Before our culture understood that addicts are just people, and that we’re all in this world and this predicament together, we might’ve assumed a woman that uses heroin lives on the street. Maybe she turned to sex work to afford her heroin habit, or maybe she had to take heroin to endure selling her body.

Did you picture her as uneducated, unemployed or on government assistance?

Well, maybe that was true…40 years ago!

Who Is Immune?

The heroin epidemic is so widespread it makes us wonder if there is a demographic that’s immune to opioids.

Painkillers are, in essence, heroin packaged in pharmacy vials.

This gives us a false sense of security about taking them. In America, we hold our doctors in high esteem and leave them to decide what’s best for our health. They’re the experts, right?

But when the doctor says, “Enough. Your surgery was three months ago,” it’s too late: We’re hooked. And once the addiction has taken hold, it is normal to feel there is no way out.

So, who can truly be immune to the opioid epidemic?

Hooked on Heroin

Once the addiction has hooked us, it is then that women often turn to finding that same drug in new places rather than experiencing the dramatic rise in pain and sickening withdrawal systems? Who can cast blame? We’re only human.

By now, the effects of the painkiller are not as good as they once were, anyway; a tolerance has set in. We have become physically dependent.

Women go to pill mills, multiple doctors or, embarrassingly, the black market. After paying $20 or more per pill, we hear about heroin. For $10 a bag, you can get even more pain relief, your suburban neighbor says.

It is humiliating for a mom to admit she has a heroin addiction, so the secrets and lies begin. And the relief felt with heroin is sooo much better than pills; the first dose is orgasmic.

Pain Alternatives for Women

What can we do to deal with chronic or intense pain? The medical community is working harder than ever to come up with alternative treatments for women suffering from pain.

Some options to consider for physical pain include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Nerve block treatment
  • Anesthesia via IV or injection

Emotional Pain Alternatives for Women

For women suffering from emotional pain, which is often tied to physical pain, some non-pharmaceutical treatments to try are:

  • Massage therapy
  • Counseling
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Meditation
  • Biofeedback
  • Electrical muscle stimulation

Reach Out If You’re Affected

If you are a woman dealing with a heroin problem, we really hope you’ll give us the chance to help you find solutions difficult time. There is a better way.

Women suffer from unique challenges in life. If someone you care about is struggling with heroin addiction – or you fear they’re heading down that road – don’t let her become another statistic. We implore you to reach out to us for help in finding treatment. Call or send us a note now.

Learn More About Heroin Addiction

*Real names withheld

 

Frequently Asked Questions About Suboxone and Heroin Detox

FAQs On Suboxone And Heroin Detox - Fight Addiction Now

At Fight Addiction Now, we’ve written quite a bit about recovering from heroin and Suboxone, but there are still several frequently asked questions about both substances that we’d like to address.

In specific, we would like to address questions people have about detoxing from heroin and Suboxone (which usually happens separately, of course). Get answers to all of the pressing heroin and Suboxone detox FAQs here.

What Are the Similarities Between Heroin and Suboxone?

Heroin and Suboxone (generic name buprenorphine) both come from the opioid family of drugs, and you could argue that both are rather exclusive. Heroin is exclusive in the sense that it is illegal. You can’t just go to the doctor and get a prescription for it; you have to know where to look and whom to ask (not that we recommend you do).

So even though heroin is exclusive in this sense, hundreds of thousands of Americans have figured out how to get their hands on it. The drug causes 10,000 or more overdose deaths each year (at least since 2014), ruins the lives of countless others, and sends tens of thousands to rehab every year.

Suboxone is exclusive because it’s a prescription drug that’s usually only prescribed for a very specific reason: detox from other opioids. Even though this drug is supposed to help cease your addition to opioids, some patients end up being dependent on it.

Thus, heroin and Suboxone both carry addiction risks (and overdose risks, as well). Both also create feelings of euphoria when taken. However, the way each reacts in the brain is quite distinct.

What Are the Differences Between Heroin and Suboxone?

People use heroin not only to numb pain, especially when their prescription for a legal opioid has run out, but also to experience feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Higher doses of this illegal drug can induce a floating, dream-like state.

Suboxone does has some pain-relieving properties, but not as strong as heroin does. People with low opioid tolerances may experience some euphoria when taking Suboxone, but it’s not one of the drug’s primary characteristics. Instead, as previously mentioned, Suboxone’s main intent is to help people overcome their physical dependence on other opioids, such as heroin.

The main difference between these two drugs in question is that heroin is a full agonist, while buprenorphine is a partial agonist. Full agonists such as heroin, morphine and oxycodone activate the opioid receptors in the brain and release the full opioid effect. Partial agonist activates the same receptors, but to a much lesser extent.

Suboxone also has antagonist properties, meaning it blocks the effects of other opioids. This is thanks to the substance naloxone that is present in Suboxone. Classifying buprenorphine solely as an opioid blocker would be misleading, however. It’s in its own category and is not a replacement or substitution for any other opioid.

Are There Similar Withdrawal Symptoms Between Heroin and Suboxone?

Heroin and Suboxone certainly share some of the some withdrawal symptoms. But instead of only listing the common symptoms between the two, we will give the full lists of withdrawal symptoms for each, with the similar ones in bold.

Potential withdrawal symptoms of heroin include:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Irritability and/or aggression
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Muscles spasms and aches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Abdominal pain
  • Tremors and convulsions
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Potential Suboxone/buprenorphine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia or drowsiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues (indigestion)
  • Fever or chills
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Irritability
  • Drug cravings

As you can see, there is great overlap between the two forms of withdrawal. The primary difference is that the more extreme symptoms of heroin withdrawal (hallucinations, seizures, convulsions, etc.) aren’t typically seen in Suboxone withdrawal.

What Is the Heroin Withdrawal Timeline Like?

The heroin withdrawal timeline will differ according to the severity of the addiction, but here is the average timeline to expect in detox:

  • 6 to 24 hours after the last dose: Acute withdrawal begins.
  • 2 to 3 days in: Symptoms peak.
  • 5 to 10 days in: Heroin completely leaves the system, and acute withdrawal concludes.

After acute withdrawal, you still have to watch for recurring symptoms, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome, which can last months or years.

We’ve written an entire article if you would like to know more about what to expect in heroin withdrawal:

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline Guide

How Long Is the Suboxone Withdrawal Timeline?

The withdrawal timeline of Suboxone is similar to that of heroin, but Suboxone has slightly more noticeable mental health effects after the acute withdrawal period. Much of this is because buprenorphine has quite a long half-time, meaning it stays in the system longer.

The Suboxone withdrawal timeline will vary for each user, but the average timeline looks like:

  • First 24 hours after the last dose: Acute withdrawal will begin at some point during day one.
  • 3 days in: Symptoms reach their highest intensity.
  • 1 week in: Acute withdrawal begins to subside, but body aches, mood swings and insomnia linger.
  • 2 weeks in: Physical symptoms subside as depression begins to take over.
  • 1 month in: Depression may persist, and drug cravings start to return.

Since Suboxone withdrawal tends to drag out before finally going away, it’s best to seek professional detox and long-term care to overcome this addiction. It’s especially crucial since the cravings for Suboxone are a threat to return after the traditional 30-day treatment period.

Will I Be Given Suboxone to Detox from Suboxone?

Many detox programs will try to find natural ways to help you overcome Suboxone withdrawal. However, the medical professionals may deem that the best way to get you off Suboxone is with a tapered Suboxone regimen, ironically.

That’s why it’s best to look for a certified medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program to help you get off Suboxone. Such a program will start you with a manageable dose of Suboxone and then strategically wean you off the drug for good, in a way that minimizes the withdrawal symptoms.

What Is Suboxone Detox Tapering Like?

If you enter a MAT-certified drug rehab center where you’re planning to stay from detox to inpatient and even to the outpatient stage, the staff can taper you off Suboxone more slowly. For example, the medical providers might taper your dose down by 25 percent every 10 days.

But if you enter a standalone detox facility and need to be off Suboxone before you move on to the next stage of recovery, the detox team may deploy an emergency buprenorphine taper. This means they will wait until the onset of withdrawal, and then administer small doses of buprenorphine (e.g. 1 milligram or smaller) every hour until withdrawal is tolerable. Withdrawal still won’t be easy, but you will be stable and ready to come off Suboxone by the time you leave the facility.

For long-term buprenorphine tapering, it’s best to take your full dose at the beginning of the day and not spread it out over every few hours. This way, there is no need to think about it for the rest of the day, and you won’t be sitting around waiting anxiously for the next dose. This protocol is also beneficial because it will be harder to adjust to eventually taking Suboxone zero times per day when you were used to taking it two to four times each day.

Can I Use Kratom Instead of Suboxone to Detox from Opioids?

Kratom is an herbal substance that has some pain-relieving, stimulant and psychotropic (mind-altering) properties. This substance has been banned in a handful of states and certain counties within states, but it is legal in a majority of the U.S.

We’ve heard stories of people turning to kratom instead of Suboxone to help them beat opioid addiction, including from our own readers. There has even been some talk about using kratom as a supplement to Suboxone.

It’s hard for us to attest to the effectiveness of using kratom during opioid detox, as the evidence is all anecdotal at this point, and kratom is not federally approved for detox treatment. All we can say is that if you want to read more about the kratom vs. Suboxone conversation, you can go here:

Kratom vs. Suboxone in Detox

Can I Detox from Either Heroin or Suboxone at Home?

If you’ve only been on small doses of heroin or Suboxone for a short time, that’s one thing. But if you have a full-blown addiction to either one of these drugs, definitely do not try to detox at home. Why?

  • Heroin withdrawal can be fatal. If you’re at the point of withdrawal where you start experiencing seizures, death is a legitimate risk if you’re not under medical supervision.
  • Suboxone detox is tricky and should be handled by professionals. Although Suboxone withdrawal is rarely deadly, relapse is a big risk because the drug takes a long time to get out of your system, and the symptoms linger for months. This makes people want to stop the withdrawal symptoms by taking more buprenorphine.

If you need help for yourself or a loved one in finding Suboxone or heroin treatment, Fight Addiction Now can help guide your search for the right program. Click on “Start Chat Now” or use our contact form to get in touch with an expert.

See Our Heroin Fact Sheet

What Injecting Heroin and other Drugs Does to your Body

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Each drug that is injected intravenously can pose its own unique dangers to the human body, but illegal injectable drugs of any kind come with a set of risks including:

  • Track Marks
  • Bruising
  • Skin Popping
  • Sooting Tattoos
  • Venous Injury (Damage to the Veins)
  • Transfer of bloodborne diseases (HIV, Hepatitis, etc.)
  • Damage to the heart and other organs

Contracting Diseases from Intravenous Drug Use

One of the highest risks of intravenous drug use is the risk of contracting a disease, either from contamination of the needle, cotton, spoons, water, and tools (known as “the works”); or from sharing the needles and “the works” with another IV drug user. Diseases that can be contracted through sharing needles and equipment include:

  • HIV – the retrovirus that causes AIDS
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Tuberculosis
  • STDs – including syphilis and gonorrhea
  • Endocarditis
  • Gangrene
  • Cotton Fever
  • Candidal Infections
  • Wound Botulism
  • Skin Abscesses
  • Necrotizing Fasciitis

Botulism from IV Drug Use

Though rare, wound botulism can happen in IV drug users when the injection site becomes infected with Clostridium botulinum. It is more prevalent in skin abscesses and boils caused by “skin popping,” or when drugs are injected under the skin, rather than intravenously or intramuscularly.

In California heroin users, from 1994 to 2010, there were 36 cases of botulism from IV drug use. In the majority of those cases, the cause of the infection was linked to black tar heroin, which is usually crudely processed and can easily be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum spores.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Wound Botulism Include:

  • Cranial Nerve Palsy
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Symmetrical descending flaccid motor paralysis (Paralysis starting from the head down, and even on both sides of the body).

Cotton Fever 

When preparing drugs for intravenous use, cotton is often used as a filter. Cotton plants are colonized by a form of bacteria called Pantoea agglomerans, which can sometimes be found on the cotton being used for IV drug use. When injected, this bacteria becomes an endotoxin and begins to mimic the signs and symptoms of sepsis.

Cotton Fever comes on quickly, only 20 minutes or an hour after injecting and begins to show symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Malaise
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Extreme Joint and Muscle Pains
  • Dull, Sharp, Piercing and/or Burning Pain in the Back and Kidneys
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Tachycardia, Heart Palpitations, and/or Arrhythmia

Cotton Fever is not considered life-threatening or serious; however, it does mimic the symptoms of sepsis, which is also quite common in IV drug use, so if are an IV drug user and start to show the symptoms, it is imperative that you seek emergency treatment immediately.

Dangers of Injecting Heroin 

In addition to the risks presented by intravenous drug use by itself, the drug heroin can cause quite a few risks when injected.

Puffy Hand Syndrome from Injecting Heroin 

Puffy Hand Syndrome (PHS) is a disease that comes from long-term intravenous drug use – in particular heroin. The disease was first noticed in 1965 in New York State prisoners that were using IV drugs. The disease is characterized by edema, swelling and puffiness on the back side (dorsal side) of the hands and feet.

The disease affects anywhere from 7 to 16% of IV drug users, and is more likely to show up in those that inject heroin into veins in their hands and feet, and do not use any type of tourniquet. What starts off as temporary painless edema or swelling turns into permanent edema that does not decrease when you elevate the hands and feet.

While this disease can happen with any intravenous drug use (including IV cocaine, methamphetamine, and crushed pill use), it is more common in heroin due to the “cut” or additives that are commonly mixed with heroin. Plater, crushed glass and quinine are often found in heroin “Cut,” and quinine – in particular – is toxic and can quickly cause damage to veins and the venous system.

Dangers of Injecting Opioids and Crushed Pills 

A big problem for many years was with people taking opioid pills and other prescription pills, crushing them into powder and shooting (slamming) the drugs intravenously. Pills were not manufactured to support intravenous use, so a variety of problems occur when someone attempts this.

Amputations from Injecting Prescription Pills 

Though there are many things that can go wrong when you inject a substance into your body that was not meant to be injected into the veins, blockage of the veins is the highest concern. This occurs when blood flow is interrupted and Ischemia follows. The lack of blood flow can lead to hypoxia in the extremities and/or the brain, and tissue death is likely if the hypoxia is prolonged. In addition to the risk of hypoxia and strokes, hemorrhaging and burst blood vessels is a concern. With all of these risks, the outcome is often amputation of extremities and/or excision of affected areas.

Since many pharmaceutical companies have not recognized that crushing pills for IV use is a problem, they have taken steps in the manufacturing process to make sure that this type of misuse causes less harm to a person. However, this does not mean that injecting pills has become safer.

Dangers of Injecting Methamphetamine 

Meth is a dirty and very harsh chemical in all of its forms, but injecting methamphetamine is the most dangerous way to use the drug. IV meth use, simply increases the already present dangers of meth to a whole new level. In addition to causing extra stress on the heart and other organs in the body, IV meth goes straight to the brain and can cause a lot of damage.

IV meth use also increases the risk of meth psychosis; which can cause violent behavior, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and other mental health issues.

Overdoses with meth are not as common and immediately fatal as overdoses with drugs like heroin, but when injecting meth, the risk of overdose increases.

Dangers of Injecting Cocaine 

When you inject cocaine, you are opening yourself up to the dangers present in shooting any type of drug – the diseases, the sores, the skin bubbles… all of it! With IV cocaine use, you are also opening yourself up to cocaine-induced heart attack, heart damage, and increase risk for heart disease and stroke. These have always been the dangers of IV cocaine use, but nowadays, we have a new and synthetic problem that makes intravenous cocaine use even more dangerous…

Injecting Fentanyl Laced Cocaine 

By now, most are aware of the fentanyl problem that we have in America. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil are showing up in batches of heroin all across the country and causing the rash of overdoses that have killed thousands in recent years.

Fentanyl is not just showing up in heroin, it is showing up in club drugs like ecstasy, molly, “acid” (or what is being sold as acid these days), synthetic marijuana, and other drugs. Cocaine too has been shown to have increasing levels of synthetic opioids.

In some of the cases of fentanyl contaminated cocaine, the mixing was purposeful – with dealers knowingly adding the opioid to a drug that usually shouldn’t contain opioids. In many of the cases, however, cocaine is getting accidentally mixed with fentanyl – due to the drugs being mixed or stored in the same area, and cross-contamination.

Snorting cocaine laced with fentanyl is dangerous in its own right, but shooting fentanyl-laced cocaine can be extremely dangerous and deadly, with an overdose occurring within minutes.

Re-Thinking IV Drug Use

If you are a recovering addict who used to shoot drugs, you are probably reading this and thinking, “Man, I can’t believe I used to do such a dangerous and dirty thing!” If you are still an addict and are still shooting drugs, we hope that you realize, I AM DOING A DANGEROUS AND DIRTY THING!

Intravenous drug use opens you up to so many dangers that can easily be avoided. Anyone who has been addicted knows how difficult it is to cut down or try and quit a drug they are dependent on, but you really need to focus on harm reduction.

Yes, you have a chemical dependency, but you can still reduce your risks by cutting out intravenous drug use and seeking help for your addiction. While opioid replacement therapy is not the first choice for everybody, it is a successful model for harm reduction. It is okay to take small steps towards recovery, especially if that first small step is to stop slamming dope and asking for help with the next step towards treatment.

Wondering if you Have Become Addicted? Take Our Quiz!

What Are The Long Term Mental Health Effects of Heroin?

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The long-term abuse of heroin wreaks havoc on every aspect of an addict’s life. It destroys relationships with loved ones, compromises your physical health and slowly eats away at your sense of self-respect and dignity.

However, there is another risk associated with heroin addiction that many addicts never fully realize. Discovering this hidden danger is a key step toward breaking the cycle of heroin abuse – and it may even save your life.

Long-Term Effects of Heroin on the Brain

Abusing heroin over a long period of time does serious damage to your brain. Once you’ve developed a tolerance to the pleasurable effects of heroin, it’ll take larger and larger doses just to feel anything at all. As your brain adjusts to having a constant flow of heroin, your dopamine receptors become less and less sensitive to the drug.

Eventually, your body stops producing enough dopamine on its own to function normally, which leads to problems like:

  • Poor thinking and reasoning skills
  • Impaired memory
  • Lack of motivation
  • Poor emotional and behavioral regulation

However, once you quit using heroin, it is possible for your brain to repair some of this damage, mitigating the potential long-term effects.

The Link Between Heroin and Mental Health Problems

Long Term Mental Health Effects of HeroinWhile long-term heroin abuse itself does have a negative impact on mental health, the more serious risk that rarely gets addressed is that many people use heroin to cover up an existing mental illness.

Research shows that an estimated 17.5 million American adults – roughly 8 percent of the adult population – suffered from a serious mental health disorder in the past year. One in 4 of these adults also dealt with a dependence on drugs or alcohol at the same time.

Mental illness hurts, and conditions like depression, PTSD and anxiety can make your life a living hell. It should come as no surprise that many people suffering from mental illness will begin using drugs and alcohol to mask their pain. But self-medicating with heroin doesn’t make the problem go away; it just covers it up for a few hours at a time.

When you rely on the mental effects of heroin use to self-medicate a mental illness, you’re not just making the problem worse, you’re also robbing yourself of the opportunity to start working toward true recovery.

Common Heroin Co-Occurring Disorders

Research has linked the risk of self-medicating with heroin to a number of mental health disorders, including:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD develops after a person experiences a traumatic life event, such as rape, abuse or military combat. A person with PTSD continues to have overwhelming, disturbing thoughts and feelings associated with these experiences that persist long after the event has ended.

These intense feelings come in sudden waves known as “flashbacks,” which can be triggered by such mundane things as a loud noise or an unexpected touch.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is characterized by unwanted, repetitive and intrusive thoughts, along with the irrational and excessive need to perform specific ritual behaviors. Even though many people with OCD know that their thoughts and behaviors don’t make logical sense, they are often powerless to stop them.

Common warning signs of OCD include:

  • An irrational fear of germs and illness
  • Intrusive thoughts about taboo subjects like sex and violence
  • Compulsively checking to make sure a door is locked, a light is off, etc.
  • Feeling anxious when certain routines are not performed

Schizophrenia

People with schizophrenia experience a combination of disturbing delusions and hallucinations. To a schizophrenic, these delusions and hallucinations appear to be just as real as the actual world. In many cases, schizophrenics are completely unable to distinguish between what is real and what is imaginary, which can lead illogical and destructive behaviors.

Because schizophrenia is a poorly understood and highly stigmatized mental illness, people suffering from the condition experience high levels of discrimination and social isolation.

Depression

Depression, unlike normal feelings of sadness, is a mental health disorder characterized by chronic feelings of hopelessness, lack of motivation and emotional numbness. People with depression may appear healthy to those around them, but when in private, a task as simple as getting out of bed in the morning can feel almost impossible.

It’s estimated that only 1 in 3 people suffering from depression ever seek professional treatment. When depression goes undiagnosed, many believe that they feel the way they do because they are worthless and lazy, which only worsens their symptoms.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD is characterized by excessive and chronic worry that is disproportionate to one’s circumstances. People with GAD are unable to control their feelings of worry and frequently become obsessed with concerns about health, money, work, family, death, etc.

While feeling anxious can be healthy in certain situations, those with GAD often have a strong emotional response to even the smallest triggers. Typical symptoms of GAD include:

  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle tension
  • Memory impairment
  • Mood swings
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Poor concentration
  • Fear, confusion, and worry

Bipolar Disorder

Formerly referred to as “manic depression,” bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes sufferers to experience serious and dramatic mood swings. Those with bipolar disorder alternate between periods of mania (which is characterized by erratic and frantic thoughts and behaviors) and severe depression.

Because people suffering from bipolar disorder are commonly seen as erratic and unpredictable, it can be very difficult for them to maintain healthy relationships.

Treating Heroin Addiction at the Source

If you are trying to overcome an addiction to heroin without also receiving treatment for the symptoms of an underlying mental illness, you are wasting your time. Dual diagnosis heroin addiction treatment is the best way to make sure that when you get off heroin, you’re off it for good. Through dual diagnosis treatment, you’ll receive help for substance abuse and mental illness at the same time, which greatly reduces the risk of relapsing.

If you are serious about getting clean, it’s absolutely essential that you discover if an underlying mental illness drove you to heroin addiction in the first place. Countless addicts have realized that once they receive professional treatment for their mental illness, their desire to self-medicate with heroin slowly fades away on its own. Getting help for your mental illness can even ease the psychological symptoms of heroin detox, improving your chances of achieving lasting recovery.

See Our Heroin Addiction Fact Sheet

Real Talk about Suboxone and Using Drugs to Get Off Opioids

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Real Talk About Suboxone and Using Drugs to Get Off Opioids

We have had a lot of talk in our Fight Addiction Now community about getting off of heroin, prescription painkillers like OxyContin, and even opioid maintenance drugs like Suboxone and methadone. There is a lot of enthusiasm for this topic, and it is definitely a hot topic amongst those who have successfully gotten sober, are working towards their sobriety, and even those that are addicted and looking to find their options for heroin addiction treatment.

There has also been a debate on the subject of using drugs to get of drugs – specifically, using opioid drugs to get off opioids. There is so much to bring up about this topic that we wanted to outline what it truly means to use medications to quit heroin and other drugs, and have a real talk about this controversial subject to continue the conversation in the Fight Addiction Now community.

Let’s start with the most common argument against using medications and substances in people that have an addiction to medications and substances.

Isn’t Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Just Using Drugs to Get off Drugs?

Medication Assisted Treatment is a common practice in the United States and is quickly being recognized as the preferred method of treatment for addiction treatment. Still, many aren’t convinced that this form of treatment and our community has brought up a lot of very good points on the subject – both for and against this method.

What is Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)? 

Medication Assisted Treatment is simply a treatment that combines medication therapy and behavioral therapy (addiction counseling, therapy, holistic treatment and therapies, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodrama therapy, and any combination of therapies to treat the behavioral aspects of an addiction to drugs and alcohol).

The reason it is a preferred method of treatment is because of its harm reduction potential. That just means that a person using this therapy is much less likely to harm themselves than using other therapies. This harm from continual relapses, overdose, death, or the negative health effects that can arise from the continued use of illicit drugs like heroin bought from the street. Essentially, you are less likely to cause yourself any more harm than is already done, by using the medication and dosages given by a medical professional.

What Drugs Are Used For Opioid Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)? 

The types of medications used in MAT seem to be causing the biggest stir in our community and in the public eye in general. Currently, the only three types of medications allowed by the FDA for opioid medication-assisted treatment are:

  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone
  • Buprenorphine

Are these drugs perfect? No, far from it… but they have been deemed safe to use for both opioid maintenance and for detoxing/tapering from opioid addiction. Methadone and Buprenorphine are both addictive substances – and some would argue that they are more addictive than heroin and prescription painkillers that contain opioids. The combination of the negative side effects of the drugs and their addictive properties is one of the primary reasons people argue against their use in treating addiction.

How Long Should You Take Methadone/Buprenorphine? 

The length of time that a person should be taking methadone or buprenorphine drugs like Suboxone is where a grey area is created in the use of these drugs. There is a huge difference in using Suboxone on a taper schedule for 30 days to get completely off drugs, and taking high dosages of Suboxone for months or years, with no plan to taper down or quit them completely.

Long Term Opioid Use and Opioid Maintenance 

Anyone who has taken drugs recreationally – especially prescription drugs – knows that there is a “right” way to take drugs, and a “wrong” way. All prescription drugs were created to treat the symptoms of various medical maladies, from pain to anxiety to regulating blood pressure. When you don’t medically need the drugs to address symptoms, you are not supposed to take them.

For those suffering from chronic pain, there is a need to take medications to address the symptoms of pain for longer periods of time. The likelihood of dependence and addiction is high, but it is medically decided that treating the symptoms and reducing pain is more of an immediate concern than the risk of addiction is.

Long-term use of prescription painkillers is not recommended for everyone, but in some cases may the best solution for treating pain and symptoms in patients.

Following this same line of thinking, some opioid addiction programs will utilize opioid maintenance therapy in a long-term program. These types of programs give patients monitored dosages of opioid drugs on a daily, weekly or monthly schedule. Also within the programs, the dosages are not tapered down, and the goal is to stay on the medication long-term, not to quit the medication and opioids completely.

This type of program is not for all people who have an addiction to opioids and is usually (or should be) reserved only for those cases where it is medically decided that the long-term use of the drugs is more beneficial to the wellbeing of the patient than getting them off drugs is. People who suffer from chronic relapse and risk death from injecting illicit drugs that could cause overdose and death are good candidates for this type of treatment.

Long-term use of opioid medications like buprenorphine/Suboxone and methadone is not recommended for everyone, but in some cases may the best solution for keeping an individual who is addicted to opioids alive.

The Possible Dangers of Long-Term Opioid Maintenance 

There are many dangers to using any drug long-term, and even the drugs used in opioid maintenance have their dangers. One of the biggest concerns/dangers members of our Fight Addiction Now community have pointed out is that some “addiction treatment programs” (if you can call them that) are all too quick to get individuals that don’t fit the criteria for long-term opioid maintenance on a long-term opioid maintenance plan.

Yes, there are suboxone and methadone clinics all over the country that either don’t assess the needs of individuals properly or take a predatory stance towards addicts and try to get opioid addicts into long-term Suboxone and methadone use. Some of these clinics take it a reckless step further and will start opioid addicts on dangerously high dosages when they are not needed.

These dosages could even be so high that they pass the threshold for safe detox dosages – meaning that the dosages you are on is so high that most detox treatment programs will refuse to detox you due to medical concerns. In these cases, attempting to quit is dangerous and could take months or years to safely taper down, and the clinic has made a customer for life.

The danger of disreputable Suboxone and methadone clinics getting you hooked for life is very real. Some of these programs even call themselves addiction treatment programs or offer a “Cure for Heroin Addiction.”

Those that are addicted to heroin and other opioids should be careful and do plenty of research into a program before starting treatment. In this sense, our community members and the public is right in sharing a word of warning about programs that utilize opioid replacement drugs. However, not all programs that utilize these drugs have this unsavory intent.

Learn More About Detox

Programs That Safely Use Medication Assisted Treatment, Suboxone, and Buprenorphine 

Now that we have addressed the dangers of opioid replacement drugs, let’s focus on the benefits of using medication assisted treatment, and how “using drugs to get off drugs” is not always a bad thing.

The Dangers of Opioid Withdrawal and Quitting Heroin/Painkillers “Cold Turkey” 

There are certain drugs that have such a strong grip on their users that even quitting them abruptly could lead to serious physical harm and death. Alcoholics and those with a strong physical addiction and dependence to alcohol CANNOT quit “cold turkey.” The withdrawal symptoms – specifically the DTs (delirium tremens) – can be so severe that organs will shut down, a patient can experience seizures, and the threat of death is very real.

Opioids like heroin, OxyContin, fentanyl, and other prescription drugs also prevent dangerous withdrawal symptoms. While not as dangerous and immediately life-threatening as with alcohol, the symptoms of opioid withdrawal are strong enough and painful enough to convince a user that being addicted isn’t as painful as the withdrawals.

Without medication to help ease these symptoms, the addict might never be able to quit drugs completely and risks the chance of dying as an addict.

When faced with the 2 choices of: 1.) detoxing from opioids painfully and excruciatingly without medication, or 2.) making the detox process a little easier by using drugs to step down the intensity slowly and safely – medication-assisted detox utilizing (MAT) and medication-assisted treatment drugs offers a safer and common sense approach.

Getting Help for Opioid and Heroin Addiction is the Best Way to Recover

We have laid out the controversies and concerns about treating an addiction to drugs with drugs, though we have only scratched the surface. We expect that this outline will give us much more to talk about (we haven’t even brought up the possibility of using kratom and non-FDA approved drugs into the mix). However, this gives some common ground to further the conversation.

As one of the members of our community brought up, “it doesn’t matter what method you used to get off heroin, so long as you got off and stayed off.” To an extent this is true, the ultimate goal of anyone who has struggled with addiction and substance abuse is to find a way to get through life without feeling beaten down and broken. To find that life can be worth living again… to find a way to cope with the mistakes we’ve made and to simply get more out of the time we have on this earth.

As long has you have a clear picture of your goals, have a commitment to your sobriety, and are prepared to work for what you want, you can recover from the addiction that has held you down for too long.

Help Is Here!

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Drug Rehabs: Which Works Best for Heroin Addiction?

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Addiction Treatment Programs For Heroin - Fight Addiction Now

Inpatient vs. outpatient therapy for treatment of heroin addiction depends on the individual. There is no one clear formula for best treatment options. Determining the best method for recovery depends on the patient, his or her history, recovery attempts, and severity of addiction.

Some individuals respond better to inpatient programs, while others respond better to outpatient. Certain circumstances can indicate the patient needs to be in one type of treatment facility instead of the other. Before finding a heroin addiction treatment facility for you or a loved one, do research to understand available options.

Choosing a Treatment Option

Determining whether you or a loved one suffering from heroin addiction should choose an inpatient or outpatient facility requires research. If the patient is currently seeing a doctor or counselor, ask for his or her professional opinion. Both options have been used to successfully treat heroin addiction.

Many people believe that outpatient programs are only occasional treatments, but outpatient programs can also provide 24-hour care. Each treatment type has its own merits, and it is up to individual patients to decide how they would like to proceed with treatment.

Inpatient Treatment Options

Inpatient rehabilitation centers are intensive, residential programs that are designed to treat serious and longstanding heroin addictions. The initial admission into an inpatient facility typically includes a medically supervised detoxification process.

During treatment, patients will reside in the facility and receive 24-hour care. The length of residency can last from 28 days to six months. The long-term stay helps ensure that patients are constantly supported, monitored and not able to access drugs that result in relapsing.

Rehabilitation in an inpatient facility removes a patient from their day-to-day life. This allows him or her to focus entirely on treatment with few to no distractions and stressors. During residency, patients are on a heavily structured schedule that includes individual and group therapies, classes, personal development and other activities.

Secondary Medical Issues

Research studies have shown that inpatient treatment is best suited for those with other health concerns, either physical or mental. For patients with physical health problems, constant medical care will help ensure they are properly monitored. Rehabilitation is a stressful time and many physical conditions can worsen during this time.

Patients with mental health issues can also greatly benefit from inpatient programs. Many people suffering from heroin addiction have underlying mental health issues which have never been addressed. The intensive therapy provided in inpatient programs can help treat underlying causes of addiction.

Learn More About Inpatient Programs

Outpatient Treatment Options

Outpatient rehabilitation programs are less intensive and may or may not include overnight stays. For outpatient treatment, patients live their lives as normal, but attend treatment or therapy sessions during off-hours. This format will allow a patient to continue his or her normal professional and personal lifestyle without a complete interruption.

Some outpatient facilities have residential options, where a patient can spend all day and all night but come and go as they please. Patients who choose this option will need to make sure their outpatient living environment is safe, effective and free from drugs and alcohol.

Individuals in outpatient programs enjoy a great deal of flexibility and can carry on their life almost to the same extent as before treatment. Outpatient treatments include psychotherapy, as well as group, individual, marital and vocational therapies. These can be scheduled around the patient’s work and family obligations.

Those receiving outpatient care require an abundance of support from friends and family. He or she must also be responsible for distancing themselves from other addicts, including dealers. Many who suffer from heroin addiction have trouble distancing themselves from these individuals, so inpatient care may be a better option if it is an issue.

Learn More About Outpatient Programs

What to Consider When Choosing Inpatient vs. Outpatient Addiction Treatment

Choosing between an inpatient and outpatient treatment program depends on a few different factors for the patient’s lifestyle and specific situation. Relapse risk, medical diagnoses, living situations and motivation levels are all prime considerations when choosing a treatment facility. Before you or a loved one enters a rehabilitation program, consider the different factors.

Relapse Risk

Some people only need one rehabilitation program to change their lives. Others have tried treatment plans before but have relapsed. If the patient has a history of receiving prior care and has a high risk of relapse, inpatient care may be a more successful option.

Medical Diagnoses

Those suffering from addiction who also have physical or mental illnesses should choose an inpatient rehabilitation program. Medical conditions should be closely monitored in those recovering from addiction to ensure they do not worsen.

Those with mental illness should be closely monitored during the rehabilitation process and receive consistent counseling services throughout recovery. An inpatient program can provide closer monitoring for health conditions beyond substance abuse.

Living Situation

If a patient has a stable living situation with others who are not suffering from heroin addiction, an outpatient treatment plan may work well. The balance between a healthy home life and a strong medical support team can help a patient recover successfully.

On the other hand, if a patient is surrounded by others with addictions or lives in a non-supportive environment, an inpatient program may be the best option. Here, they would receive 24-hour observation and care they otherwise would not receive in an unhealthy home environment.

Levels of Motivation

Patients who have initiated the treatment plan on their own and have high motivation levels for recovery can thrive in outpatient programs. Sometimes detox, therapy and group support are all one needs to recover fully. If a patient has a low level of motivation or has been forced into a rehabilitation program, the structure and intensity of an inpatient program will be more effective.

Making the Decision

Inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities have shown to successfully treat heroin addiction. If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for the addiction, consider all available options and the patient’s situation.

In years past, many doctors would automatically recommend inpatient facility treatment for heroin addiction. Recent studies have shown that both inpatient and outpatient programs can successfully treat the addiction, but success rates depend on the individual’s needs.

The decision for inpatient or outpatient treatment should be made by the patient, his or her family and medical professionals. Psychologists and counselors can determine if a patient is suffering from mental illness to help lead to informed decision about which treatment option might be best.

If you are a family member trying to help someone suffering from addiction, we recommend visiting a counselor with or without the patient for help. Their professional opinion may give you the confidence you need to choose a treatment plan.

See Our Heroin Addiction Fact Sheet

Fentanyl-Induced Amnesia and Other Long-Term Health Problems You Can Expect from Messing Around with Fentanyl

Fentanyl-Induced Amnesia and Other Long-Term Effects of Fentanyl Use - Fight Addiction

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is an opioid used as a pain medication in prescription drugs. The medication is often used for the management of chronic or after-surgery pain.

Designed in the 1950s, fentanyl is a synthetic alternative to morphine. It is extremely potent and closely monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, the drug is hundreds of times more potent than heroin found on the street, making it extremely dangerous when not monitored by health professionals.

When used in small doses for a pain management system by physicians, the drug can be safe. The problem is that the drug is so potent that even those with prescriptions can accidentally overdose. This potency is also why fentanyl has become an increasingly popular street drug.

Recreational use of fentanyl has been rising since the 1970s, on its own or mixed with other drugs. Many times, buyers are misled into believing they are buying pure heroin or Oxy, when in fact the drug is fentanyl or fentanyl-laced. This misrepresentation has led to thousands of overdose deaths, as the buyer is unaware of ingredients.

What Drugs May Contain Fentanyl

Fentanyl increases the potency of many opioid and non-opioid drugs, making it a popular choice for illicit drug makers. The addition of fentanyl can also be used to compensate for low-quality heroin or to give dealers an edge up on their competition by creating a better high for users.

If you participate in recreational drug use, you need to be aware of the dangers of fentanyl-laced drugs. Always remember that unless you have manufactured the drug yourself, you don’t know exactly what is in it.

Heroin

Overdoses on heroin are common across the country, but are often not caused by pure heroin. Research is beginning to show that thousands of those overdoses were caused by fentanyl-laced heroin, of which users were unaware. Sometimes, these overdose deaths cause a boost in sales for dealers because it attracts addicts who can never get high enough.

When heroin is laced with fentanyl, it’s almost impossible to identify unless you know what you’re looking for. Authorities with experience in seizing drugs say pure heroin has a yellow tint to it, while fentanyl powder is bright white.

The concoction of fentanyl-laced heroin can be unadvertised or sell under the names Theraflu, Bud Ice or Income Tax. Understanding these facts can save your life.

Cocaine

Fentanyl has been commonly laced in heroin for decades, but the presence of the drug in cocaine is more recent. Fentanyl acts as a depressing agent, whereas cocaine is purely a stimulant, making it unclear why the two are being batched together.

Experts have theories suggesting it is used to stretch cocaine or is part of an inadvertent cross-contamination on the part of dealers. Cocaine is just as white as fentanyl, which makes it impossible to identify with the naked eye.

Ecstasy

Like cocaine, fentanyl has just recently been discovered after overdoses on a combination including ecstasy. The rates of overdoses involving fentanyl and ecstasy are on the rise, and many authorities believe it is due to cross-contamination. Because fentanyl is so potent, it takes only a few dust particles of the drug to contaminate a new batch and become lethal.

Marijuana

Marijuana laced with fentanyl is a sort of oddity. There are many conflicting reports that this combination exists. The DEA has stated publicly it has not discovered the combination, but dealers in online forums claim they do mix marijuana and fentanyl together to increase highs.

The reason for this disparity can be that fentanyl present in marijuana is difficult to detect or is so new on the market the DEA has yet to catch on. If you are a marijuana user, just be aware that the combination is a possibility, albeit a slim one.

Fake Pills and Opioid Painkillers

In 2017, more than two dozen patients in Macon, Georgia were hospitalized after buying and consuming what they had thought to be Percocet pills after buying them on the street. Instead of containing the active ingredients of Percocet, the pills contained a near-lethal combination of other drugs, including fentanyl.

The presence of counterfeit pills is on the rise across the country and can result in lethal overdoses, as users are unaware of the ingredients. Many of the pills are coming from Mexico or China and look almost identical to their legitimate counterparts.

The Effects of Fentanyl

Often, people do not consume fentanyl purposely. The extremely minute amount required for a high or potential overdose makes the drug unattractive for most users. As previously mentioned, problems arise when users are unaware of the ingredients in drugs they are using. What some people expect to be a normal high can easily turn deadly without the user knowing what happened.

Side Effects of Fentanyl

When used as prescribed by a medical physician, fentanyl still has strong and sometimes long-lasting side effects. Short-term side effects of normal fentanyl use can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Altered heart rate
  • Slow breathing rate
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Weakness
  • Sweating
  • Itching
  • Seizures

When the drug is used in excess or in high doses, more serious side effects will occur. It’s important to understand that only a few particles can cause a person to overdose.

The margin for overdose is so small that serious and life-threatening side effects are guaranteed. These side effects include:

  • Fainting
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Severe confusion
  • Lack of oxygen circulating in the body
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Overall non-responsiveness

Long-Term Effects of Fentanyl Use

When used in the long term, fentanyl leads to multiple organ damage due to lack of oxygen throughout the body. Hypoxia is the term used for oxygen level delivery around the system that is considered too low. Anoxia is the condition where no oxygen is delivered around the body, leading to organ failure and death. Other long-term effects include severe and varied damage to the brain.

Brain Damage

Oxygen is vital to the brain. Without it, permanent brain damage and death will occur. When fentanyl is used long term, the depressed respiratory system causes a lack of oxygen to the brain.

The lack of oxygen will then cause:

  • Memory loss
  • Hearing and vision impairment
  • Loss of coordination
  • Cognition impairment
  • Potential retardation

Severe lack of oxygen to the brain can cause damage within one to two minutes. Long-term suppression of breathing due to a depressed respiratory system occurs gradually.

Other Damaging Effects of Fentanyl

With long-term use of fentanyl, the depressed respiratory system also leads to lack of oxygen delivery to organs. The organs slowly begin to shut down. If the user continues taking fentanyl and does not seek treatment, death will result. Organs will begin shutting down, typically beginning with the kidneys and liver.

Fentanyl has also been shown to cause amnesia after long-term use or overdose. Amnesia can be long or short term, depending on the amount used.

Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction

Symptoms Of Fentanyl Caused Hypoxia - Fight Addiction Now

Fentanyl is an opioid, so treatment for addiction to fentanyl is essentially treatment for opioid addiction.

Withdrawal symptoms begin anywhere from three to 17 hours after last use. The symptoms peak in the first few days but will level off within a week or so. The symptoms of withdrawal can be severe, so the process should be monitored by medical personnel.

Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Crying
  • Runny nose
  • Chills
  • Stomach cramping
  • Joint pain

Often, opioid addiction is treated by weaning the user slowly off the drug with smaller and smaller opioid doses. This method can help calm withdrawal symptoms to ease the transition. Again, this should only be performed with the help of medical professionals.

The Deadliness of Fentanyl

If you choose to use drugs recreationally, be aware of the dangers that come with fentanyl-laced drugs. Nearly all fentanyl overdose deaths were the result of people who unknowingly took the drug. In many instances, fentanyl cannot be detected or seen by the naked eye, so you never know what you’re getting when you buy drugs on the street.

It only takes a 100th of the amount of fentanyl compared to heroin to kill an average-sized adult male. This means only a few tiny particles of fentanyl can be lethal, especially if it has been manufactured on the street.

You never know what you are getting when you buy drugs, and often your dealer doesn’t know what they’re selling, so just be sure to keep the danger of fentanyl at the forefront of your mind.

Take the ‘Am I Addicted’ Quiz

Denying Chronic Pain Sufferers Pain Medication Can Only Worsen the Opioid Crisis in 2018

Denying Chronic Pain Sufferers Pain Medication Worsen The Opioid Crisis In 2018 - Fight Addiction

If pain is your constant companion, shouldn’t you have the right to pain relief according to current medical advances?

Is it fair for the public to look down on you for needing painkillers? How about being met with indifference and discredited by the doctors you are reduced to pleading to help you?

This is the situation many chronic pain sufferers are finding themselves in today.

The New War on Drugs Could Worsen the Opioid Crisis

The opioid addiction epidemic in America has sparked much concern over the staggering death toll it is taking on our citizens. So, we have waged a new war on drugs: prescription opioids.

Prescription opioids, or opiates, derive from the poppy plant and can be natural or synthetic. Opiates have been used since the dawn of civilization. From Hippocrates prescribing juice of the poppy to the morphine used for injuries in the Civil War, opiates have been the mainstay of pain relief.

Here are the most common prescription opioids today:

  • Vicodin, Norco, hydrocodone
  • OxyContin, Percocet, oxycodone
  • Codeine, Tylenol with codeine
  • Fentanyl patches, Duragesic, fentanyl
  • Dilaudid, hydromorphone
  • Demerol
  • MS Contin, Kadian, morphine

The class of opioids even includes the illegal drug heroin and some illicit forms of fentanyl and opium.

Opioid Addiction Help or Harm?

Does putting restrictions on opioid prescriptions help or harm chronic pain sufferers?

Political issues, the big business of pharmaceutical companies and health insurance all have a big impact on the practice of medicine.

With the mounting death toll related to opioids, doctors have been prescribing less pain medication. Similarly, state governments are implementing new laws on how much pain medication doctors can prescribe.

These restrictions make it harder for people with legitimate needs to get their pain medicine, even causing them harm in some cases. But, restrictions on painkillers will not be able to prevent all opioid use or solve the opioid epidemic. (It’s not like all of the current laws against illegal drugs are preventing heroin addiction.)

Q & A and Debates

Opioid Death Statistic 2016 Infographic - Fight Addiction NowIn the debate on how best to handle opioid abuse and overdose, the group with the softest voice is those patients who rely on opioids to get through life.

People with lifelong chronic pain issues have few or no other options for effective relief. Facing a lifetime of suffering from a non-curable condition or an old injury significantly reduces one’s quality of life.

Q: Is it fair to people needing chronic pain management to treat them like drug addicts or worse, that they are not really in pain and not credible?

And where does that leave people in pain who are now suddenly unable to get the medication they need to manage their lives?

How can another person, even a medical professional, adequately deduce your pain?

A: Individual pain is as unique as our brains are from each other, and everyone has a different tolerance.

A few will find an alternative holistic plan for some relief, but many are turning to illicit opioids, as evidenced by upward trends in heroin abuse. Some are looking for pain relief in alcohol and other substances. Others will lose the ability to contribute to society as pain cripples them into being unable to function or work a job. Unore people will be forced to apply for disability or government assistance.

There is even a debate among doctors and medical professionals regarding the opioid addiction epidemic. Doctors focused on the dangers of opioid use tout the belief that chronic pain patients should concentrate on their emotional reaction to pain with coping and acceptance strategies, and only secondarily try to reduce their physical pain.

Physicians focused on compassionate care take the stance that if a patient has tried several other treatments without positive results, painkillers should be provided so the patient retains some quality of life.

Who Should Make Health Care Decisions?

It is true that the numbers of accidental overdose and death attributed to opioids have risen significantly and are disturbing. Drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin need to be prescribed and monitored carefully by a conscientious physician.

But the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showing 30,000-plus opioid-related deaths each year can be put in perspective with the 15,000 anti-inflammatory (like ibuprofen) drug deaths per year that no one is talking about.

However, when we have politicians and businesses dictating to doctors what the best medical practices are, we are not allowing the most qualified people to make decisions concerning patients’ health.

Medically trained physicians judge best which treatments suit their patients, not the government, not the pharmaceutical industry or lobbyists with the most money, and not the insurance companies.

Some pharmacies are imposing distribution limits on opioids. Some insurance companies, formerly the champions of opioids as an inexpensive front-line treatment, are starting to require a prior authorization for medications like morphine and fentanyl.

The Politics of Opioid Dependence

President Trump established a commission last year to examine the opioid crisis and to present solutions. Furthermore, the president declared a national public health emergency after hearing the commission’s findings.

While no one can deny opioids are dangerous, according to some people, this new war on prescription drugs is mostly a political move. Winning wars for a good cause early in a presidency tends to result in positive gains the opinion polls and can set a candidate up for winning a second term.

Prescription Restrictions Causing People to Turn to Stronger Drugs

It is worrisome that the current trends toward limiting doctors’ abilities to legally prescribe painkillers could only worsen the opioid epidemic by pushing more people toward heroin and opioid addiction.

Due to increased awareness, state government oversight and doctors’ fears of punitive measures for prescribing too many narcotics, prescription opioid numbers have decreased over the past few years. However, as rates of prescription opioids dispensed have gone down, rates of heroin use have gone up.

The original crackdown on prescription opioid medications is what led many to switch to heroin. Heroin is very similar in chemical makeup to prescription pills, only much stronger and more powerfully addictive.

Because of current societal views, people dealing with chronic pain can be left untreated or under-treated. Additionally, they are often stigmatized as drug abusers and criminals.

Alternatives to Limiting Painkillers

Instead of penalizing the majority for the troubles of the minority, we could focus on monitoring patients for risky behavior in opioid use.

We already have stringent state monitoring plans in place on controlled substances. These programs check for multiple prescriptions, multiple doctors and early refills. This helps identify patients who are misusing the drugs and are thereby at risk for accidental overdose.

By putting control of patients’ health back in the hands of qualified physicians and the patients themselves, mutual responsibility for safety can be shared by the ones most affected. It is a better than forcing chronic pain sufferers to choose between a life of agony and criminalization and addiction.

An Engaging Discussion on Human Rights

How does the risk of societal harm stack up against the rights of the individual to have effective pain relief?

Not everyone who uses pain medication is a drug addict. Should people with a legitimate need for medication be denied it because other people abuse it? By that logic, we would re-establish prohibition.

Denying painkillers to those in pain will no more stop the use and abuse of opioids than prohibition stopped alcohol use and abuse. Addiction and drug abuse are much deeper issues than a prohibition-type regime could ever solve.

Have you been denied medication or found it more difficult to obtain legitimate prescription medications? What have your experiences or your family’s experiences been with prescription opioids? Join us on our forum to discuss this hot topic, or learn more about the risks of prescription drugs by clicking below.

See Our Prescription Drug Fact Sheet

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms and Detox

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline Symptoms And Detox - Fight Addiction Now

What to Expect from Heroin Withdrawals and Detox

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 15,000 people died of overdoses related to heroin in 2016. In the United States, there are 467,000 people who are regular users of heroin, and an estimated 600,000-plus people need treatment for addiction to heroin.

During a one-year period (2014-15) the overdose death rate from heroin use rose by more than 20 period from the previous cycle. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, it’s crucial that you get help. Here is what to expect in a withdrawal timeline from heroin.

What Is Withdrawal?

Although no two people will have identical experiences on their journey to sobriety, knowing that what you are going through is a normal part of the process can help you get through it and to the other side.

Addiction happens when the body and the brain become so accustomed to the presence of a substance that they rely on the substance to feel normal. There are physical and psychological reactions to the removal of something that the body believes it needs for survival.

Withdrawal refers to the symptoms experienced when the body is deprived of something that it has come to depend on. Each experience with heroin withdrawal symptoms is as unique as the person experiencing it. However, there are some general similarities and feelings you can expect when you go through the process.

What to Expect from Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin affects the central nervous system. It suppresses certain functions related to heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and the regulation of the body’s temperature. It also causes the brain to increase the production of chemicals that allow people to experience pleasure.

When the drug that is responsible for the body and brain behaving in a certain way is removed, it can have a devastating impact on the body. The severity of the symptoms experienced depends on how long the person has been using the drug, how much they have been using and their body’s unique reaction to the cessation of use.

Common symptoms of heroin withdrawal may initially include:

  • Mood swings, irritability, and/or aggression
  • Restlessness and insomnia
  • Uncontrollable yawning
  • Excessive sweating
  • A runny nose or excessive tears
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle spasms, aches and/or chills
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Abdominal pain

Beyond the initial detoxification of the body, there are long-term symptoms that people may experience as they are going through their recovery process. These may include anxiety, depression, paranoia, high blood pressure, hyperactivity and cravings.

Some people feel that this period of time is the most difficult part of the recovery process. It’s important to keep in mind that the symptoms of withdrawal are temporary.

The Average Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Break The Silence Get Help Quote - FANHow long is heroin withdrawal? How long does heroin withdrawal last? These are common questions from the people addicted and those who love them.

The process of withdrawal is a gradual progression of detoxification. It won’t start all at once or stop all at once. When the drug use is first stopped, symptoms may begin within a few hours or, for some people, it may take as long as 24 hours for the withdrawal symptoms to begin.

During the first few days, the most acute symptoms begin to subside and decrease gradually through the second half of the week.

Because heroin is a short-acting opioid, effects are brought on quickly when the drug is used. This also means that it rids itself from the bloodstream rapidly.

This is good news. It means that, for most people, the worst of the withdrawal symptoms during recovery from heroin addiction last approximately a week. Some people may get through the worst of it more quickly, and some people may take a bit longer.

An average heroin withdrawal timeline may include the onset of symptoms within six to 12 hours of the final dose of heroin, with symptoms peaking in the first three days and subsiding by the end of the first week.

The Detoxification Process

When someone stops using the drug all at once, sometimes referred to as “going cold turkey,” the withdrawal symptoms will be the most severe. This can actually be dangerous, because the brain and nervous system have become dependent on the drug.

Stopping it all at once can cause the body to go into shock. Some people experience:

  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Convulsions
  • Dehydration

With such severe withdrawal symptoms, the risk of relapse is very high. It’s common to overdose when relapsing because people often relapse by using the same amount of the drug they used before stopping.

How to Ensure Safe Detoxification

The safest way to detoxify the body from heroin addiction is in a facility that specializes in drug rehabilitation. Not only is it safer in the short term as the body goes through the most severe symptoms of detoxification, but research has shown that detoxification that’s medically assisted has the highest rate of success.

Medically assisted detoxification addresses the physical aspects of safe withdrawal along with the behavioral and psychological issues related to detoxification. A worthwhile program will also include therapies to address the issues that may have been a factor in the initial addiction.

A detoxification process that’s medically assisted can lessen the pain by using sedation and supervision while the body is going through the cleansing process. There are medications approved to use for heroin addiction withdrawal:

  • Naltrexone
  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone/Subutex)

These are commonly used to curb the discomfort of removing heroin from the system.

Throughout the detoxification process, the treatment team will medically monitor the patient. This means the staff will monitor their heart rate and blood pressure along with their body temperature and respiration. This allows for any medical interventions necessary before a situation becomes life threatening.

Long-Term Success

Medical detoxification offers the best chance for long-term recovery from heroin addiction because it addresses the physical, psychological and behavioral components of the addiction.

At Fight Addiction Now, we want you to know that recovery is possible, and we can guide you there. Overcoming heroin addiction without medical supervision is dangerous, and it’s not realistic to try to do it on your own. Arm yourself with the right tools and the right support system, and you will be well on your way to a new life.

See Our Heroin Addiction Fact Sheet

Agonist vs. Antagonist Opioids: How Painkillers, Heroin and Opiate Medications Work in the Brain

Agonist vs. Antagonist Opioids Painkillers Heroin Opiate Medications Work in Brain - FAN

Even if you live under a rock, you have probably heard that we have a nationwide opioid crisis in America. The death toll from opioid misuse, abuse and overdose are staggering.

Use of prescription opioids – such as Vicodin, OxyContin and morphine – as well as the street opioid heroin is skyrocketing. In fact, the epidemic is so bad that a half a million people are expected to die from opioid use within the next decade.

What Are Opioids?

Originating from the poppy plant, current opioids are natural, partially synthetic or synthetic drugs. From Victorian opium lounges to the Wild West surgeon’s table, variations of these drugs have been around for a long time.

Opioids are very good at controlling pain. They are also very good at addicting people.

Opioids are addictive because of the way the drug attaches to receptors in the brain. Our brains have opioid-specific receptors, and when those are activated, we feel pleasure as well as relief from pain. This feeling is desirable and motivates our brains to seek it out again once experienced.

Agonist vs. Antagonist Opioids

An agonist in biochemistry is a substance that mimics another substance and activates a physiological response when combined with a receptor (cells that receive stimuli).

A full agonist activates a full-action response, resulting in a full effect of the substance being mimicked. A partial agonist activates the receptors to action, but to a much lesser degree.

An antagonist is a substance that inhibits and blocks or dampens a physiological action. An antagonist, also termed a blocker or a blocking agent, binds to and blocks a receptor, preventing a substance of similar structure from attaching to the receptor.

How Opioid Addiction Starts

So, as it pertains to how opioids affect the brain, an agonist is a drug that activates the opioid receptors in the brain, causing that euphoric feeling people get when taking drugs like hydrocodone, oxycodone or heroin. A full agonist response elicits a rush of dopamine to the brain’s reward system. For most people, this creates a high level of pleasure or excitement.

The brain is made to repeat rewarding activities, so once you take opioids, your brain wants to repeat that pleasure – and that’s how addiction begins.

Treatment with Opioid Antagonists

An opioid antagonist binds to the opioid receptor and forms something like a seal to cover the entry point where the drug hits the brain. By preventing opioids from crossing the blood-brain barrier, even if people use opioids at the same time, an antagonist will reverse the effects (like euphoria and slow breathing).

Naloxone and naltrexone are opioid antagonists that block the effects of opioid binding. The nasal spray version of naloxone, Narcan, is a fast-acting emergency treatment for someone who has stopped breathing because of opioid overdose. It has saved numerous lives.

Naloxone reverses respiratory depression as a result of too much heroin, OxyContin or other opioid drugs. Both naloxone and naltrexone are also used to treat other conditions, such as drug and alcohol addiction and chronic pain.

What Is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is a mild or partial agonist in that it is an opioid, but it acts as both an agonist and an antagonist. Buprenorphine activates the opioid receptors in the brain, but to a much lesser degree than full agonists like Vicodin or fentanyl. At the same time, buprenorphine blocks other opioids from attaching to the brain’s opioid receptors.

This makes buprenorphine unique and a good choice for addiction treatment. It gives the person addicted to drugs or alcohol a little bit of the pleasure of opioid feelings, which quiets the cravings and suppresses withdrawal symptoms. Buprenorphine is also prescribed for chronic pain. It has much less potential for addiction than full agonist opioids do.

How Heroin Affects the Brain

Everyone has opioids in their brains. They are a naturally occurring substance meant to calm the body and manage the reward and pleasure circuitry in the brain.

Studies have shown that even after taking prescription painkillers for only a few weeks, the changes in the brain’s structure are evident in MRIs. Patients taking pain meds have a reduction in the gray matter responsible for the regulation of pain, cravings and emotions.

What are the implications of a reduction of gray matter that regulate emotions? People taking painkillers over a long time can have a harder time controlling their emotions. Additionally, painkillers reduce your body’s ability to control pain, making you more sensitive to it.

Other effects of the binding of synthetic opioids to the brain’s opioid receptors:

  • Slows down the central nervous system
  • Depresses respiration and slows breathing

A depressed respiratory function is what puts opioid users at serious risk of death. It is easy to overdose on opioids and stop breathing. Heroin, one of the strongest opioids, which is partially why it is illegal, affects the brain deeply and can take years to reverse.

What Happens to the Brain After Someone Stops Using Opioids?

Even after someone has stopped using opioids, their brain still shows effects of the drug. It can take a long time for the brain to restabilize – many months or years. The longer a person uses prescription drugs, the more ingrained brain changes are, resulting in a longer recovery period. Use of stronger drugs, such as heroin or fentanyl, also result in a longer amount of time for the brain to adjust back.

The physical dependence on the opioid can be reduced by gradually tapering off. During this time, the patient can make behavioral changes that will rewire the brain. Cognitive therapy also helps to deal with cravings and negative behaviors.

Post-acute opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Increased pain
  • Cravings
  • Low energy and enthusiasm, fatigue

The long-term effects of opioids on the brain are substantial. For a long time after opioid use ceases, the individual may experience learning issues, memory problems and other cognitive impairments. The recovery process will be a lengthy one, and it is common to experience many challenges during the process.

Is There a Difference Between Addiction and Dependence?

Yes. People with chronic pain that take painkillers over time develop a dependence on their medication. If they suddenly stop taking their medication, they will go through physical withdrawal symptoms due to the changes the body undergoes when on painkillers.

Physical acute withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Cramps
  • Weakness
  • Possible suicidal thoughts

Addiction is an abnormal condition, which is classified as a disease. Furthermore, it may or may not come with a physical dependency. Addiction is characterized by compulsive behavior, uncontrollable cravings and participation in drug use (or the addictive behavior of choice) despite harmful life consequences to oneself or others.

Your Turn

Nearly everyone in America knows someone who has been affected by the opioid crisis.

Has someone in your family experienced heroin/opioid use or overdose? Do you have personal experience with medically assisted therapy? Discuss opioids and share your experiences on related topics with other members in our online forum who have traveled paths similar to yours.

See Our Heroin Addiction Fact Sheet