If you are misusing opioids or have an opioid use disorder, we cannot stress enough the importance of seeking addiction treatment. The prospects for people struggling with any form of use disorder are not promising without treatment and a program of recovery; however, for those in the grips of an opioid use disorder, the risks are arguably much higher due to the potential for overdose.
It’s nearly impossible to have a discussion about the American opioid addiction epidemic and not bring up overdose death(s). In the last two decades, researchers have seen a disturbingly exponential rise in premature deaths related to prescription painkillers, heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Merely saying that the situation is dire could easily be described as an understatement. While some reports show that prescription opioid overdose deaths are decreasing, heroin and fentanyl-related fatalities are anything but and there is little evidence indicating that that will change. What’s more, there is new evidence of another deadly trend, that of polysubstance use involving the simultaneous use of opiates and benzodiazepine medications.
Mixing Opioids and Benzodiazepines is Deadly
Benzodiazepines or “benzos” are sedatives that people take to address anxiety. Common brand-name medications that doctors prescribe to treat anxiety include Valium, Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin. All benzos carry the risk of dependence and subsequent addiction; and, those who become hooked typically require medical supervision when they stop taking the drugs for reasons owing to harmful withdrawal side effects. Some of the symptoms of withdrawal, such as seizures, can be fatal.
While both opioids and benzodiazepines carry inherent risks individually, when they are taken together it is often a recipe for tragedy. Unfortunately, it is a risk that many Americans are, or were, willing to take! A new study published in JAMA Network Open shows that people combining opioids and benzos are five times more likely to overdose. Thirty-percent of all opioid overdose deaths involve benzodiazepines, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
It is worth pointing out that when doctors began prescribing opioids with less discretion, ultimately resulting in an epidemic, they also adopted a more blasé attitude about benzos. Between 1996 and 2013, the number of prescriptions for drugs like Xanax increased 67 percent, according to AJPH. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that in the first decade and a half of the 21st Century, overdose deaths involving benzos increase nearly eight-fold.
Opioid Use Disorder and Benzodiazepine Treatment
When opioids and benzos are used in conjunction with each other, the result is drug synergism. When the side effects of two drugs individually are similar, when used together they work together to produce even stronger feelings of euphoria which is something that many addicts welcome. However, both the drugs in question also cause respiratory depression on their own, when taken together their effects in slowing breathing are exponentially greater or synergistic.
If you are struggling with an opioid use disorder, abuse benzodiazepine, or use both types of drugs at the same time, Synergy Group Services can assist you in your recovery. Please contact Synergy today to learn more about our programs.
It would be nice if everyone abusing opioid narcotics of any kind could be convinced that the best thing they could do today is seek help for their addiction. For unlike other substances that one could be addicted to, the likelihood of an overdose and potential death is so great with prescription opioids and heroin that it is simply not worth continuing.
Naturally, such a scenario could only exist if addiction were not what it is: A serious mental health disorder that fights to protect itself like a wolf backed into a corner. Addicts know that at any moment the drugs they are about to put in their body could be their last, yet they do it anyway because the thought of withdrawal sickness is so terrifying it is as if they have no other option.
There is not a formula to explain when an individual has had enough and will seek help. Even those who have survived an overdose will continue using despite the inherent risks. Which is why it is so vital that states and cities do their part to provide addicts with naloxone, clean syringes and a way to determine if the drugs they are about to do contain the deadly ingredient known as fentanyl.
Testing for Fentanyl
People can die from an overdose on morphine, they can die from an overdose on heroin. But if fentanyl is added to the equation the chances of an overdose death are exponentially greater.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) points out that fentanyl is anywhere from 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Used in even small amounts it causes severe respiratory depression that can be deadly.
The drug is commonly mixed into bags of heroin to increase potency, without users having any knowledge of its presence. However, there is a way that addicts could determine if their bag contains fentanyl. In New York City, a program in the Bronx has begun equipping heroin addicts with easy to use fentanyl test strips, NPR reports. At St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction, a needle exchange program in the Bronx, ordered test strips from Canada and are handing them out at the exchange.
“If you’re doing dope,” staffer Van Asher says to one client, “we’ll give you a test strip so you can test and see if there’s fentanyl.”
The Road to Recovery
There are some who might argue that giving out test strips and clean syringes encourages continued use. But, in reality, such practices prevent the spread of deadly diseases and can help prevent a fatal overdose. Needle exchange personnel typically talk with addicts coming in off the streets about the value of seeking recovery. Letting them know that it is possible. A significant number of people have gone to treatment based on recommendations from such clinics.
If you are actively abusing opioids of any kind, please contact Synergy Group Services to begin the journey of recovery.
Last December we covered a serious topic relevant to South Florida regarding opioid abuse, specifically heroin. Like most states which made valiant efforts to curb prescription opioid consumption, an unintended consequence was an exponential increase in a demand for heroin. A drug that can be bought easily on the streets, inexpensively. What’s more, the drug is often far more potent than most prescription opioids and is often laced (unbeknownst to the user) with fentanyl—a drug that is 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. As a result of greater heroin use, Florida had more overdose deaths in 2015 than any year in the previous decade.
Human Cost of Heroin Use
When discussing the American opioid addiction epidemic with regards to costs, the conversation is usually directed towards the death toll associated with using drugs in that family of narcotics. In 2015, there were 332 fatal drug overdoses in Palm Beach County, Florida alone, The Palm Beach Post reports. A figure that rose in 2016, significantly.
While opioids like heroin are highly addictive and can easily result in premature deaths, such drugs can wreak havoc on those who do not have a choice—specifically babies. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) has been on the rise in the wake of more expectant mothers using heroin. NAS occurs when a fetus is exposed to opioids during the course of the pregnancy. When the baby is born, his or her supply to the drug is cut off resulting in acute opioid withdrawal. The condition requires close medical supervision for several weeks. And there is no way of knowing the impact that drugs will have on the baby later in life.
Providing the necessary resources for deterring opioid use, expanding access to addiction treatment and reversing opioid overdoses with the drug naloxone is not an easy task. And such resources cost state taxpayers a lot money. But they are necessary for saving lives. The human costs of the opioid addiction epidemic are, without question, the most important when shaping policy. However, it is important that we try and get a grasp on the financial burden that the epidemic has brought upon the state.
A Price Tag On Opioid Abuse
The Palm Beach Post tasked themselves with figuring out that total cost of the heroin epidemic in Florida. The researchers came to their findings by reviewing 58 million Florida Agency for Health Care Administration hospital diagnostic and billing records covering patients from all 67 counties. They compared the overall costs of the epidemic in the first nine months of 2010, a year when heroin deaths in Florida were approaching a 10-year low, to the first nine months of 2015. You can see a breakdown of the Post’s findings below:
- Florida hospitals charged $460.6 million related to the heroin epidemic for the first nine months of 2010, compared to $1.1 billion in 2015.
- $5.7 billion: All Florida hospital charges tied to the heroin epidemic between 2010 and late 2015.
- $2.1 billion: Amount of all Florida hospital charges tied to the heroin epidemic in which Medicaid was the primary payer.
- $967 million: Florida hospital charges for babies born addicted between 2010 and 2015.
- $826 million: Amount where Florida Medicaid was the primary payer for babies born addicted between 2010 and 2015.
- One every two days: Average number of Florida patients treated for heroin-only overdoses in 2011.
- One every 90 minutes: Average number of Florida patients treated for heroin-only overdoses July through September 2015.
Opioid Addiction Treatment
If you are battling with opioid addiction, whether it be prescription painkillers or heroin, please contact Synergy Group Services. Our Palm Beach County Florida opiate addiction rehab program combines traditional counseling with Alternative Medicine to achieve a synergistic outcome with unparalleled success. With each day that passes where opioid addiction is left untreated, the risks become exponentially greater.
In the United States, we are responsible for using the world’s market share of prescription opioid. It would be one thing if our country had a population that compared to China or India, but the 2016 estimated population of the United States is 322,762,018 (roughly 5 percent of the world population) according to an end-of-year estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau. While efforts continue to limit the number of prescriptions written for painkillers, as well as the size and number of refills, the U.S. is just as dependent as ever upon opioids.
It is a double edged sword that has resulted in the worst drug epidemic in history. On the one hand, people need adequate pain management, and the other hand pain medications are both addictive and deadly. Yet, seemingly with caution to the wind prescription opioids continue to be both manufactured and prescribed in excess in the United States. The most common prescription opioids used and abused include:
- Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
- Oxycontin (oxycodone)
- Vicodin (hydrocodone)
Curbing Painkiller Production
Over the last several years, there have been calls to curtail the amount of prescription painkillers produced every year. And, as you might have imagined, pharmaceutical companies have done their best to prevent production restrictions. However, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has placed new mandates on the amount of prescription opioids that can be produced, HealthDay reports. The DEA says that we should see a 25 percent decrease at least in 2017. Through production limitations, hopefully it will result in fewer of such drugs ending up in the wrong hands.
Just to give you an idea of how often prescription opioids are diverted to people without prescriptions, data from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that 6.5 million Americans older than 12 had used an opioid without a prescription in the last month, according to the article. Such high pill diversion rates are likely the result of doctors writing prescriptions for more of a drug than a patient requires.. Several government agencies, including the DEA, have called upon doctors to change their prescribing practices.
“For years, DEA and others have been educating practitioners, pharmacists, manufacturers, and the public about the potential dangers of the misuse of opioid medications,” the DEA said.
Opioid Addiction Recovery
It is widely agreed upon that the best weapon for fighting the opioid epidemic is addiction treatment services. They could outlaw prescription opioids tomorrow, and opioid addicts would still find a way to maintain their habit—by way of heroin. Treatment can break the cycle of addiction and give millions of Americans a fighting chance at recovery. Please contact Synergy Group Services today, to begin the journey of recovery.
The state of Florida has, arguably, been the epicenter of synthetic drug use in the United States. Dangerous, borderline legal chemicals which are sprayed on benign plant matter or crystalline “bath salts” have become somewhat of a scourge in the South Florida region. The most commonly used comes in a form usually referred to as synthetic marijuana—which is a far cry from actual cannabis. Both doctors and the users of synthetic cannabis, sold under the names Spice and K2, will tell you that the side effects witnessed and experienced are quite different than the effects produced by smoking traditional weed.
Just over a year ago we discussed a synthetic drug known as “Flakka” (alpha-PVP) which is chemically similar to bath salts (MDPV) that had been previously abused. In Florida, at the time, the use of Flakka had been linked to 18 deaths.
When it comes to the chemicals used to make synthetic drugs, one country often comes to mind—China. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration(DEA) has long been aware that the vast majority of synthetic drug chemicals are manufactured in China, where clandestine laboratories operate with relative impunity. Such facilities produce the chemicals inexpensively with little oversight—human testing is not a top priority. Meaning, drug users become human guinea pigs which can result in deadly outcomes.
While synthetic drugs like Spice and Flakka are of the utmost concern among lawmakers and law enforcement, the top priority in the U.S. is the opioid epidemic. Day in and day out opioid narcotics afflict millions of Americans and are responsible for over 70 deaths daily. If you have been following the news you are probably aware of the rise of a synthetic opioid known as fentanyl. The drug is meant to be used in hospital settings for the most severe pain. The drug is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, and as much as 50 times more potent than medical grade heroin (diacetylmorphine).
Over the last few years there has been a growing concern about mixing fentanyl with street heroin. Users of heroin are usually unaware that fentanyl is present within their bag of dope, an ignorance that has led to a significant number of overdose deaths. So why is fentanyl being mixed with heroin, a drug that can be potent enough for overdose on its own? Heroin is usually stomped on (mixed with benign adulterants) to increase profits—the more you have the more you make. Fentanyl is commonly mixed with weak heroin to up the drug’s strength.
What’s more, with each year that passes it becomes more and more difficult to purchase prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, on the street. The ingredients used to make fentanyl are inexpensive and be acquired with relative ease by Mexican drug cartels. Fentanyl analogs are manufactured in clandestine labs in Mexico and then pressed into pills that replicate an OxyContin tablet. Once again, China presents as the source of the chemicals needed to produce fentanyl. China does not regulate the sale of such chemicals which find their way to the Americas, The Wall Street Journal reports. Twenty-five grams of fentanyl costs about $810 to make, which amounts to $800,000 in pills on the street.
At Synergy Group Services, we specialize in treating addiction, we can help you or a loved one break the cycle of addiction and give you the tools necessary for sustaining long term abstinence from all mind altering substances.