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Opiate Abuse: How It Sneaks Up On You – BAART Berlin, VT

Opiate abuse often sneaks up on you. You have an operation, or you throw your back out playing football in the front yard. Your doctor prescribes a pain killer. The pain killer helps the pain, and then it takes more of the painkiller to achieve the same effect. The body develops a tolerance to the drug, and then when the drug isn’t there, the craving starts. You may go from doctor to doctor to get enough prescriptions to keep up, and still, opiate abuse may be the last thing on your mind. It is becoming more common for people who become addicted to painkillers to move on to heroin when they’re no longer able to get prescription opioids. Heroin is cheaper than prescription drugs, so it ‘makes sense’ to the person who’s using the drug.

A May 2014 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association1 reported that “compared with previous generations of heroin users, newer initiates are more likely to be older, to be white, to live in non-urban areas, and to have previously abused prescription painkillers.” People are more likely to become addicted if they abused other substances, such as alcohol, have a family history of addiction, have a history of trauma, or live in an area where others abuse prescription drugs.

The price of opiate abuse

Opiate abuse often leads to crime, such as stealing, to support the habit. It also increases the likelihood of disease such as HIV or Hepatitis from shared needles. Those who use heroin are also candidates for rheumatological diseases, heart lining and valve infections, collapsed veins, and abscesses where drugs are injected. Overdose is also a strong possibility with opiate abuse. When people try to quit on their own, the withdrawals are so unbearable that they go back to using. However, if a person goes back with the dosage he or she used to take, the amount may be too much for the body to handle. Death by overdose is a strong possibility.

How to stop opiate abuse

When addiction kicks in, the body becomes unable to stop using the drug. The drugs change the way the brain works. Your brain without opiates produces endorphin hormones that make you feel good. Heroin or opioids suppress the body’s natural production of endorphins. Opiates overwhelm the system with too much of a rush, and that’s what creates the physical dependence. To stop opiate abuse, you need help. The first step is to manage withdrawal with medication assistance. A treatment program is most effective because they have the experience and resources to know what you’re going through. They monitor your vital signs and know how much medication to prescribe. Two types of medication to stop opiate abuse are methadone and buprenorphine. Your doctor will consider your individual situation and will make a recommendation for which type is best for you.

Successful treatment for the long term

Another part of medication-assisted treatment is counseling. Counseling helps the person on opiates understand his or her addiction. But it’s more than that. Counseling provides the support and the tools to reduce the risk of relapse. It’s not a quick-fix, but the process helps to end opiate abuse. BAART Programs is a resource in Berlin, VT for medication-assisted treatment, and there are treatment centers all over the U.S. where people can get help.
1Cicero TJ et al. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.366 [published online May 28, 2014]

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