Fifty-two people die every day from opioid overdoses nationwide, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 12 million U.S. residents used prescription painkillers non-medically in the past year.
Unfortunately, even a small dosage can depress respiratory function, and these drugs can be especially dangerous when combined with other common substances like alcohol and sleeping pills. What’s more, prescription drug abuse can be addictive, and even lead to heroin use.
If you love someone who may be addicted to prescription painkillers, here are five things the National Safety Council says you should know.
1. Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain. Addiction, like heart disease or diabetes, leads to increasingly poor health, and can be fatal if it’s not effectively treated and managed. People who suffer from addiction still have self-worth and should be treated with dignity. Unfortunately, shame and discrimination prevent many individuals from seeking treatment. Recovery can be achieved in many different ways and all recovery efforts should be celebrated.
2. Medication Helps. Opioid and heroin addiction cause a chemical imbalance in the brain, which medication can help repair. There are three major medications typically used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes counseling and participation in social support programs: Buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone. Buprenorphine and methadone diminish the effects of withdrawal and cravings restoring brain chemistry. Naltrexone blocks the euphoric effects of opioids and heroin. Buprenorphine and naltrexone can be administered by health care providers. Methadone is delivered in specialized clinics.
3. Traditional treatments aren’t always effective. Recovery is a lifelong journey. Unfortunately, some traditional treatments focus on quicker fixes like attempting it alone or by going cold turkey, which ultimately can be detrimental. Indeed, rates of relapse and overdose are higher for people who have gone through 30-day treatment programs, and 56 percent of people who leave treatment centers relapse within the first week. However, medications, can offer longer-term solutions, and are often less expensive than in-patient treatment. If traditional substance abuse programs haven’t worked, consider medication.
4. Support is critical. A failed cycle of detox and inpatient therapy, then relapse, can leave a person feeling hopeless. This is why support is critical. Doctors and treatment counselors are important, but even more so is a well-informed support group of family and friends.
“Addiction is not a broken arm that can be fixed. It’s like being on a permanent diet with a piece of candy staring at you every day,” says Avi Israel, a survivor advocate who lost his son after battling a prescription drug addiction. He advises friends and family of patients to, “Know the signs of addiction. Don’t judge. Throw tough love out the window. Love. But love with structure.”
5. Understanding addiction is crucial. Both patients and their friends and family should understand that addiction is a disease, and know what is needed to manage it.
“My son had Crohn’s disease, and I knew everything about that. I wish I had known as much about addiction,” says Israel.
There are more options than traditional 30-day-treatment programs and 12-step programs. In addition to medication, there are support programs like SMART recovery, which provide attendees with tools based on the latest scientific research, as well as a worldwide community with self-empowering, science-based support groups.
A road of recovery is paved by many people – not just those in recovery. With the right support systems in place, a successful and sober life is possible.