I was scared and intimidated.
I was standing in a cold and poorly lit hospital emergency room next to my father who was curled up on a stretcher. This scene was all too common. He would suffer at home until it became impossible. Then, we’d take a field trip to the hospital to get “fixed.” He’d be released; then, over time, like clockwork, the cycle would recycle. I listened to him describe his “drugs of choice” as they called them, to his nurses and physician.
Tylenol 3 with Codeine
Cocaine, cigarettes, drugs…
DRUGS were his drugs of choice. He was addicted to opioids. He had become dependent on opioids due to being shot during a robbery. The bullet was lodged in a precarious place and was not easily removed. It left him in so much discomfort that he couldn’t function. After his injury, he entered the hospital as an emergency patient and left as a life-long patient addicted to medication.
From Ache Management to Addiction
Like many people who are prescribed opioid medication for ache management by their physician, they can begin their journey taking their medication as directed. Over time, their utilization of their medication increases. They begin to look forward to taking their medication and need refills earlier than they are supposed to get them. Then life begins to fall apart.
What I did not know on the day that I heard my father state his drug history aloud, but now understand, is that opioid addiction is a disease like any other chronic disease.
In 2013 an estimated 2.4 million people were dependent on opioids, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50, surpassing car accidents. In Ohio, at least 4,100 died last year- a 36% increase from 2015 when the state led the nation in overdose deaths. West Virginia and Kentucky are not far behind and have seen a significant increase in overdose deaths.
Opioid dependence is a physical addiction to prescription medication, heroin, etc. It is a complex medical condition that requires a sophisticated approach to quality care. Opioid dependence can start with a legitimate medical issue that can quickly cross over into dependence on the medication used to suppress its symptoms. It can also begin with a psychosocial/mental illness known as a co-occurring disorder. Discomfort can be physical or mental.
With an average of 144 people per day dying from overdose deaths, here are (at least) five things you should know about opioid addiction:
1. We don’t have time for stigma.
Many people who struggle from opioid addiction may be reluctant to ask for help because they believe that they will be judged. They will deny themselves care and support based on this belief. It is important to get help as soon as possible. There is no need to wait until the bottom falls out. For every person who is suffering and feels judged, there is a resource of support waiting for you. Your tribe is out there and they’re ready to help.
The DATA 2000 is a law giving physicians the ability to treat opioid addiction on an outpatient basis in the privacy of their offices. So, if you visit a doctor to be screened, diagnosed and treated for opioid addiction the other patients will not know if you are there for hypertension, diabetes or a common cold. Your privacy can remain intact and your insurance is likely to cover your treatments. If a higher level of care is required there are quality inpatient, residential and medication-assisted therapy programs available. It is important that you seek and receive help as soon as possible so that you can get back to the quality of life that you deserve.