It all starts with KNOWLEDGE and understanding the facts.
The data shows, the opioid crisis is impacting our state. Many people who struggle with opioid dependency face a wide range of stigmas that are preventing them from seeking treatment. We don’t want them to become an opioid overdose statistic.
But most people are not aware of these basic facts.
The facts are simple:
- Opioid use disorder is a disease
- There is treatment
- Recovery is possible
It's a disease.
There is treatment.
Recovery is possible.
What is an Opioid?
Opioids are powerful painkillers that can be highly addictive and are dangerous. Opioids include illicit drugs such as heroin and carfentanil as well as prescription medications used to treat pain such as vicodin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl.
Whether the opioid is prescribed by a doctor or acquired illegally, these drugs can cause serious changes to the brain and body.
Continued use and misuse can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. And after a while, people must take opioids just to avoid the physical withdrawal symptoms. Although some damage can occur with short-term drug use, the most extreme changes to the brain and body typically occur with long-term use and misuse of opioid painkillers.
Opioid Use Disorder is a Disease
As the use of opioids increases, dramatic changes in brain function increases and the increased desire and planning on how to get opioids becomes an obsession.
These changes to the brain are caused by opioid use disorder. Neuroscientists have concluded that it is a chronic brain disease, precipitated by long-term changes to the biological structures of the brain.
The disease hinders one’s ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs – despite harmful consequences to the individual and to those around him or her.1
Understanding that opioid use disorder is a disease leads to empathy for the person with the disease and will help to reduce the stigma surrounding this disease.
1Source: “Drug Facts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction," National Institute on Drug Abuse (2012)”
Reducing the Stigma
Everyone can help reduce the stigma around opioid use disorder by focusing on the person NOT the disorder.
Join other Hoosiers and Take the Pledge to help reduce the stigma around opioid use disorder.
Signs of Opioid Use Disorder
To treat a disease, one needs to know the signs of the disease. Being aware of the physical signs of opioid use disorder could help to get a person into treatment for the disease.
Signs of opioid use disorder include:
- Noticeable elation / euphoria
- Marked sedation / drowsiness
- Constricted pupils
- Slowed breathing
- Intermittent loss of consciousness
- Doctor shopping
- Shifting or dramatically changing moods
- Social withdrawal
- Sudden financial problems
- Criminal activity to obtain drugs
Another indicator that a person has an opioid use disorder is if a person exhibits withdrawal symptoms when opioids are discontinued.
Continued use and misuse of opioids can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. And after a while, people must take higher doses of opioids just to avoid the physical withdrawal symptoms.
As a person escalates their opioid doses, they face an increased risk of overdose. When a person takes a higher dose of opioids than their body and brain are able to manage, they may experience an overdose.
An opioid overdose can be life-threatening if medical treatment is not administered right away. Never wait to seek help—it could save someone’s life, including your own. You should seek professional medical help immediately if an overdose is suspected.
When a person shows symptoms of an overdose, Naloxone can be administered. It is a drug that reverses the effects of opioids. When administered, a person typically shows a response to the naloxone within five minutes, but may require additional doses depending on the type and amount of opioids in his or her system. Naloxone is NOT a substitute for medical attention and those who administer it are required to call 911.
What is treatment?
By understanding that opioid use disorder is a disease – the barriers to seeking and accessing treatment are reduced. There is treatment for opioid use disorder and people need to be aware of this.
Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT)
The most effective method of treatment for an opioid use disorder is called medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT is the combination of three FDA-approved medications and counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy.
The three medications are methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. Each medication works differently to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms and/or block opioids’ euphoric effects on the brain depending on whether they are opioid agonists or antagonists. Opioid agonists and partial agonists work to fulfill the brain’s need for illicit opioids, and opioid antagonists stop opioids from reacting in the brain. Patients will respond differently to the various medications and it is recommended that an individual consult with a healthcare provider to find the right form of treatment for them.
Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid agonist medication that can prevent withdrawal symptoms and reduce craving in opioid-addicted individuals. It can also block the effects of illicit opioids.
Buprenorphine is a synthetic opioid medication that acts as a partial agonist at opioid receptors—it does not produce the euphoria and sedation caused by heroin or other opioids but is able to reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid dependence.
Naltrexone is a synthetic opioid antagonist—it blocks opioids from binding to their receptors and thereby prevents their euphoric and other effects. An individual must abstain from opioid use for 7 to 10 days before starting Naltrexone. Naltrexone itself has no mind-altering effect following detoxification and has no potential for misuse.
Counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy includes both individual and group counseling sessions that help someone learn and practice positive drug-free thoughts and behaviors. Therapy can also include references to other medical/psychiatric, psychological and social services including assistance with employment, housing, and family services.
To help you find providers and community resources for yourself or someone you care about with an opioid use disorder a directory of resources has been created.
Hope of Recovery
By acknowledging that opioid use disorder is a disease – the barriers to seeking and accessing treatment can be reduced.
Understanding that opioid use disorder is a disease leads to empathy for the person with the disease and will help to encourage people to seek and access treatment.
And with treatment comes the hope of recovery.
Hoosiers need to know that recovery is possible.
The first step to recovery is recognizing you need help.
To learn more about recovery visit https://www.samhsa.gov/recovery.
Amy R. began using prescription opioid pills in 2005 as a result of chronic back pain. Her doctor wrote an opioid prescription for her to cope with the pain until they could find the root cause of the ailment and successful treatment. At first, Amy took her pills as recommended on the pill bottle, but one day she tried taking a few extra and everything changed. She found that her anxiety and fears would go away when misusing the pills.
Eventually, Amy became dependent on prescription opioids, a battle that would take her years to overcome. She ended up unemployed because there were times when she was too consumed with the drug to focus and go to work. Ultimately, spending all of her money on pills led to the loss of her home.
Trying to quit, she could never make it past the third day because the withdrawal symptoms would become so painful that she had to go back to the pills. “The one thing that was going to make it better was to go use,” Amy said. “Other people can quit cold turkey, but that didn’t work for me.”
Deciding to find a treatment program, she was turned down by one center, but kept searching. Amy found a treatment center offering Methadone for their patients. “I was one foot into treatment, one foot out of treatment,” she said. “That’s how most of us are at first.”
Amy was not as committed as she wanted to be, but she experienced a wakeup call when the treatment center discovered she had continued to fill opioid prescriptions throughout her time in treatment. However, she was not taking the pills herself; she was diverting them to help pay for the treatment program. After this, Amy started taking her recovery more seriously. She began listening more at group meetings, and she found herself wanting to emulate others’ stories of recovery.
“There’s not just one way to do it,” Amy said. Medication-assisted treatment worked for her unlike other methods she tried: “I wouldn’t have been able to recover without Methadone because it kept me from being sick.”
Now, three years into recovery and yearning to help others, Amy received a recovery coach certification on August 11, 2017. As a recovery coach, Amy will help people find resources they need—providing support through the stages of their recoveries. “I don’t like to hear that other people suffering with addiction don’t have support groups,” she said. “There is a need for people like us. I want to be that positive voice for others.”
Sharing your Story
Sharing stories is a way to connect with people and inspire others who may be struggling with opioid use disorder. When you share your recovery journey and how your recovery has impacted those around you, you show people they are not alone. Your story can also demonstrate that treatment works and recovery is possible.
Why should you share your story? Because it helps to reduce negative attitudes and stereotypes and may encourage others to seek help.
Deciding whether to share your recovery story publicly is a very personal decision, and you are the only person who can decide whether it is the right choice. Think about what might happen after sharing your story and weigh the pros and cons.