Opioid Dependency, Treatment Options and Prevention

Around the world, some 26.4 million people abuse opioids annually. Of that sum, nearly 2.1 million of the individuals suffering from opioid dependency and addiction reside in the United States. This has led to the term “epidemic” being widely used when discussing the level of widespread addiction currently present in the country. At one point in the late 90’s more people were killed in auto accidents annually than by overdoses of controlled substances. By 2014, unfortunately, that statistic is no longer relevant. More people in the U.S. die every year of overdoses than almost any other cause of death (not including natural cause).

Opioid prescriptions have tripled

One key factor behind the surge in opioid dependency if the fact that the number of prescriptions written for opioids annually has tripled over the past 20 years. In conjunction, the drug cartels have also been flooding the country with heroin, which is cheaper and more readily available than prescription medications. This means that once someone becomes addicted to prescription medication, even if the prescription is discontinued, there are other sources of opioids (though they may be far more unstable).

So what are the treatment options when it comes to opioid dependency? First, let’s touch base on what defines substance abuse treatment. For all intents and purposes, any planned, intentional intervention in the behavior and health of a person suffering from substance abuse is considered treatment. Whether this is a “step program” or a designed intervention involving professional help. All forms of treatment have some similarities, though.

Medication Assisted Treatment is effective for treating opioid addiction

They will all involve physical and psychiatric evaluation, detox, counseling and personal support. In some cases, the treating physician may also deem it prudent to make use of medication-assisted therapy such as addiction cessation medications. One of the most effective treatments for opioid dependence to date is Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). This is a proven method that has been shown to greatly increase retention and significantly decrease the likelihood of relapses later.

As with treatment of any mental or physical health condition, all options should be discussed with your physician. Not all patients are equal and each individual is likely to respond differently to treatment for opioid dependency.

In some severe cases (usually involving overdose) medication like Naloxone may be used. This medication is used to rapidly counteract the effects of an opioid overdose. In many cases, the use of this medication saves the patient and plays an essential part in reversing the epidemic.

Another effective measure in stopping the opioid epidemic is by the way of intervention. Intervention can come either in the form of a traditional intervention involving loved ones and friends. In which the person suffering from the addiction is made aware of the fact that what they are doing to themselves has negative impacts on their loved ones as well.

Education and awareness also prevent dependence

Or intervention can be more about preventative maintenance. This type of intervention most often involves making younger people or people at higher risk of dependency aware of the warning signs. By making use of life skills training and programs like “Too Good for Drugs” as well as a lot of others. In this way, a person can be given the tools required to be on the lookout for potential substance dependency. After all, not many people wake up and think “today I want to become dependent on opioids” and given the proper information and tools they can be proactive about preventing dependency and expanding an already overwhelming epidemic.

This is something that is not going to simply go away. This issue has been around for many years and will likely be around for many to come. If handled correctly though we may be able to decrease the number of casualties.

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Latest update: October 3, 2016