BY // STACY SAWYER,
DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS & MARKETING,
HAMILTON COMMUNITY HEALTH NETWORK
THERE ARE MANY LOCAL PROGRAMS AND TREATMENT CENTERS THAT RANGE FROM IN-PATIENT TO INDIVIDUAL COUNSELING TO SUPPORT GROUPS.
Turn on the radio, tune into the day’s news, scroll through your tablet and you’re apt to find a story or two on opioids and the addiction crisis. It’s not something that’s happening somewhere else. It’s happening right here in our town, our neighborhoods, our homes. And it’s not happening to the “other guy,” it’s happening to our loved ones.
According to the CDC’s most recent statistics, in 2017 an estimated 1.7 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 652,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder. Plus, over 130 Americans die every day due to opioid overdose.
“We’re seeing more and more people of all ages who never thought they’d be affected by drug addiction fighting for their sobriety and ultimately, their lives,” says Albert Ujkaj, a social worker and treatment counselor at Hamilton Community Health Network. “This crisis does not discriminate.”
Not only is opioid addiction an equal opportunist, it’s something that’s been around for centuries. The first morphine or opioid addictions are recorded as early as the Civil War in this country. In the 1990s we started seeing prescription opioid overdose deaths increase. The next wave began in 2010 when overdose deaths started involving heroin. And finally, in 2013 synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, started showing up on the streets.
How does Addiction Happen?
“I was prescribed a painkiller for my knee. I didn’t know it would lead me down a road of addiction,” states Andre, a patient at Hamilton Community Health Network where they treat addiction with suboxone and vivitral, along with group support and individual counseling.
Many people, like Andre, end up abusing opioids after being prescribed one to treat pain. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse more than 2 million Americans abuse opioids. The problem with these drugs is that when your body tolerates the dose you’ve been prescribed, you end up needing more medication to relieve the pain, which can lead to dependency.
According to Ujkaj, “opioids can make your brain and body believe the drug is necessary. If you’re dependent, your brain will need the drug to just feel normal. Addiction takes hold of our brains in ways we can’t control. It is far more complex than many people realize.”
Andre explains that he didn’t know he was addicted, as many who are dependent don’t realize they have a problem until it might be too late. Most likely friends and family notice changes in the patient’s behavior before the patient does. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of addiction include uncontrollable cravings and inability to control opioid use even though it’s having negative effects on personal relationships or finances.
People may also experience sweating, constipation, nausea, lack of sex drive, sensitivity to pain, shallow breathing, slurred speech and a sense of euphoria or discontent. When someone who has become dependent on a prescription narcotic painkiller stops using it, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms including restlessness, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, anger, depression, muscle or bone pain, nausea and more.
How to get Help
When it comes to getting help, the first thing to know is you’re not alone. There are many local programs and treatment centers that range from in-patient to individual counseling to support groups.
Hamilton Community Health Network 810-406-4246
Community Mental Health 810-257-3740
Flint Odyssey House 810-238-7435
New Paths 810-233-5340
Substance abuse hotline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
MSP Angel Program
Allows an individual struggling with drug addiction to walk into an MSP post during regular business hours and ask for assistance. An “Angel” volunteer will support the individual during the process, and provide transportation to a treatment facility.