Drug addiction remains a serious problem within in the United States and around the world. In 2014 there were over 47,000 overdose related deaths, many attributed to opiates such as heroin, oxycontin, and oxycodone. Statistics show that over the past decade drug epidemics that were once mostly predominant in urban areas have been slowly spreading to suburban and rural areas of the U.S. as well. What are the reasons for this epidemic and how can we begin to reduce the number of drug related deaths in the future?
To understand part of the reason for the relatively recent uptick in drug overdose fatalities, one needs to keep in mind how addiction begins. Believe it or not, a considerable percentage of those who end up addicted to an opiate or other substance start by taking a prescription ordered by their doctor. At the turn of the century, the painkiller oxycontin was heavily prescribed to patients suffering from serious injuries. By 2010 the drug accounted for nearly one-third of the whole prescription painkiller industry.
While the drug is effective and still used today, it can be easily abused, and is risky for some patients to take. If instructions aren’t properly followed or understood, oxycontin can become habit-forming and addictive. For some patients, once their prescription is up they seek more even after the pain from their initial injury has subsided. From there, some seek stronger and cheaper alternatives to the drug, even illegal opiates such as heroin. In other words, oxycontin addiction can quickly become heroin addiction, often paired with other abuses such as alcohol addiction.
With enough oxycontin, heroin, and other opiates on the market (legitimate or not), it doesn’t take long for a tragic epidemic like this to start and spread fast. To further stoke the flame, the American middle class has been stagnant if not in gradual decline since the turn of the century, meaning fewer jobs, fewer homes, lower wages, and higher rates of depression. With more cases of depression comes more cases of drug abuse, which is partially why the drug epidemic has spread from the cities to the suburbs and beyond. And since heroin is cheaper than oxycontin, more and more people in the lower middle class are turning to this drug as an alternative.
Dealing with Detox and Rehabilitation
For those addicted to an opiate, alcohol, or other drug, there is still hope. While detoxing is never an easy process, methods have improved over the years to help patients transition as comfortably as possible from a life of addiction to a life of sobriety and freedom. But what exactly does detoxing and rehabilitation involve, and how long does it take?
As you might imagine, the length and severity of detoxification will vary depending on the drug(s) in question, duration of use, the size and age of the individual, and other variables. In general, heroin withdrawal symptoms last about a week and may include physical reactions such as nausea and shaking, as well as psychological ones like depression and cravings. The detox period itself for heroin lasts between 5 and 10 days. This process must be overseen by medical professionals, who will keep track of the patent’s blood pressure, heart rate, and boil functions, administer medication, and provide therapy if necessary.
The three main medications for detoxing someone from opiates are methadone, naltrexone, and suboxone, which all essentially work to reverse the effects of opiate use and relieve the withdrawal symptoms from the patient. Use of these medications must also be overseen by a doctor, as they can produce side effects of their own. Methadone addiction, for instance, can become a whole new problem itself.
Beyond medicinal detox, rehabilitation clinics offer supplementary means for helping patients reach sobriety and cope with the emotional distress that may come from leaving addiction behind. These clinics may include group activities such as counseling, yoga, sports, and cooperative games. Individual mediation, physical therapy, and art projects are also a part of some rehabilitation clinics. For many former addicts, this atmosphere helps rejuvenate the spirit and move on from the past.
It’s hard to predict the future of drug addiction in the United States. Fortunately, there are people and institutions willing and able to help those seeking sobriety and a better future.