How to Detect If You or Your Loved One is Addicted to Prescription Medication

June 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Health, People and Culture

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Prescription addiction happens covertly, so you may not detect your own or your loved one’s dependence until much later in the process. Many people who abuse prescription painkillers simply tell others – and themselves – that they take their pills because of pain.

“Most of the time you are unable to decipher [an addiction] until an individual has experienced more deficits than benefits from abusing the medications,” Dr. Nancy B. Irwin, a primary therapist at Seasons in Malibu, says. “In other words, unless there are apparent impairments in functioning as a result of abuse, most individuals do not even realize they are abusing.”

The fact that prescription opioids come from a doctor tend to lull one into thinking that he or she is simply taking medicine instead of abusing hard drugs. “Prescription medication can be obtained legally and is largely covered by your health insurance,” Dr. Irwin says. “[Some believe] street drugs carry more risk than prescriptions because you are unaware of any additives or other drugs it could be combined with.”

On the contrary, prescription painkillers are actually one of the most common causes of lethal drug-related accidents in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly half of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve at least one prescription opioid. The report also reveals that more than 15,000 Americans died from overdoses involving prescription opioids in the year 2015 alone.

To help you or your loved one pull out of this dangerous cycle, here are four key questions that can unveil whether or not someone’s prescription medication use has developed into addiction.

1. How often are you taking the medication?

If you suspect prescription opioid abuse, Dr. Irwin says this should be one of the first questions to ask. Are you or your loved one taking the pills every few hours or are you actively trying to space them out as much as possible? Are the dosages low or high?

Bear in mind that all prescription medication must be taken as prescribed. Many doctors also write prescriptions for pain medication to be taken only “as needed.” If you find yourself or a loved one taking these medications on a regular basis or in higher doses, the prescribing doctor needs to know. Taking higher doses or more frequent doses is a sign of possible addiction.

2. Can you stop taking the medication?

Prescription pain killers are usually not an ideal way to manage chronic pain. They’re much more effective for acute pain, which should pass in a matter of weeks in most cases. If the person is unable to stop taking the medication after the appropriate amount of time, check to see if discontinuing the medication causes problems. This would be a tell-tale sign of dependence. Dr. Irwin says, “The abuse begins to happen when individuals become physically dependent on prescription medication and the desire to avoid the physical and psychological discomfort from withdrawal symptoms outweighs the choice to stop taking the medication.”

3. How do you act when you don’t have medicine?

If you or your loved one forgets the medication at home or can’t get a refill on time, what happens? Your behavior during this time is usually a telling sign as to whether you are an addict.

According to Dr. Irwin, initial signs and symptoms include changes in behavior or mood, decreased tolerance of others, increased agitation, irritability, anxiety or impulsivity.

“You will see changes in cognition which can include memory loss, confusion, poor concentration or focus, complaints regarding physical aches and pains, body sensations such a pins and needles, poor G.I. functioning or an urgency to get to the medication.”

Typically, right before a prescription runs out, addicts get “panicky” and spend a great deal of time scheduling doctor appointments and pharmacy pickups out of fear of missing a dose.

4. Where are you getting the medicine?

Most people with serious pain should not have an issue getting prescription medication from a doctor who can oversee their pain treatment plan. Whenever possible, it is best that the person gets all of his or her prescriptions filled from the same pharmacy. A pharmacist who gets to know the patient and his or her medications is in a good position to help spot signs of possible prescription addiction. If you or your loved one makes an effort to avoid seeing the same pharmacist, know that this may be a sign of addict behavior.

While prescription pain opioids are often useful and sometimes necessary to treat moderate to severe pain, they are far from harmless. The key is to monitor one’s intake of these prescriptions and maintain an open and honest dialogue with a medical professional.

Recovery from Prescription Medication Addiction

Not everyone who receives prescription painkillers become dependent, but when addiction does take hold, it’s important to look beyond the drug abuse. “The addiction is a symptom to underlying psychological and physiological ailments that have yet to be treated,” Dr. Irwin says.

The problem with addiction is that it contributes to the brain being hijacked and leads to poor judgment, often rendering them unable to seek help on their own. If you find that your loved one refuses to acknowledge their drug abuse, Dr. Irwin suggests an intervention along with other family and friends. “Be vigilant, stay informed, consult with professionals and ensure that you continue to be persistent.”

On the other hand, if you recognize the addiction symptoms in yourself and are ready to recover, allow yourself the time to heal. Get assistance and do what you can to prioritize your health and overall wellbeing.

“Prescription addiction requires a focused approach to eliminating the dependence and then facilitating a long-term plan for success,” Dr. Irwin says. “Seasons in Malibu thinks about that plan from the moment [the person] walks through the doors.” The recovery team’s approach includes a systemic treatment model that strongly takes the individual’s family, environment, vocation and activities of daily living into account, she says.

When dealing with drug addiction, remember that having a good spirit and keeping an open mind help tremendously during the recovery period. “Prescription abuse and dependence can be more difficult to spot early on, that is why staying vigilant, maintaining an open line of communication and seeking help immediately can make the crucial difference for you or your loved one.”


Dr. Nancy B. Irwin is a Certified Hypnotherapist and the Primary Therapist at Seasons in Malibu, a world class, dual-diagnosis, CARF-accredited drug rehab and addiction treatment center in Malibu, CA that specializes in treating addictions such as alcoholism, cocaine addiction, opiate addiction, prescription drug abuse and more. Dr. Irwin earned her doctorate in clinical psychology from California Southern University and is a certified practitioner of Time Line Therapy, Emotion Free Therapy, and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Over the years, she’s shared her expertise on CNN, CNBC, Fox, MSNBC and other popular radio and TV shows.

Myanmar’s Heroin War Is Lost–Can America Be Next?

December 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Politics and Government

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heroinMyanmar (also known as Burma) has long been one of the world’s leading producers of heroin, and production of this opiate drug derived from poppies does not appear to be slowing. While the heroin export/import ration may have gone down after the 90s, that does not mean that production, import and export of the drug has stopped altogether.

Due to the fact that Burma is the second largest producer of poppy seeds, most countries can link heroin exports to Myanmar. The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime has tried cracking down on the country but it appears that we are far from seeing the end of heroin exports from Myanmar.

Controlling Where There’s No Control

Many of the citizens, police and civilians in Myanmar engage in heroin usage. The most common using grounds are cemeteries. The cemetery acts as a safe haven for junkies and social users alike. Many of the citizens of Myanmar contribute the lack of control of this drug to the fact that most of the officials use it as well.

Due to undercover investigations, many officials who set out to control the use have instead become addicted to the drug themselves. When police go undercover, it is their job to ensure that their persona is completely believable. There is no way to convince a dealer that you are a user unless you actually use the drug in front of him. The undercover investigators may have had good intentions to start, but they have fallen short of fixing the problem.

Heroin User Junction

The cemeteries in which the heroin users hang out are littered with addicts–many who end up as fatalities. Every day, there are more than five drug users discovered dead. The cause of death is almost always attributed to heroin overdose. The irony that users are dying in a cemetery that is filled with bodies of drug overdose victims is far from humorous. It is a travesty that needs to be stopped.

Opiates in the United States

Myanmar’s drug exports have touched many countries, including the United States. Many people fear that, if something drastic is not done soon, the United States will succumb to the same fate as Myanmar, if not worse. Heroin usage is a worldwide problem, and it is one that can essentially be the downfall of life as we know it.

According to recent studies, more than 50 percent of major crimes committed in the United States are linked to opiate drug usage. Statistics also state that over $480 billion has been lost due to opiate use, addiction and recovery. Those numbers include loss of wages, cost of hospital bills and even criminal justice system costs.

While the United States has significantly lowered heroin usage among its population, it is still an issue that needs to be tackled. The threat that the problems in Myanmar may be echoed in the United States is a threat that needs to be taken seriously. The war on drugs is an ongoing effort that is still in need of fine tuning.

Cryste Harvey has battled with addiction since the day she was born. From family issues to personal issues, she has seen many things, but she has taken the leap to be sober and to help inform others of the hardships, trials and tribulations associated with addiction. She is now a mother and wife, and she has vowed to help others on their road to recovery. With little to no help from her parents and siblings, she was the first person in her family to graduate high school and then continue on to college. She is currently working towards an English degree, and she hopes to become a published author.

How I Got through Opiate Withdrawals

October 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Treatment and Recovery News

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hand coming through pile of pillsWith every choice you make, we know there is either a consequence or a solution. As addicts, while many are still fighting for the willingness to get clean, there are those who are finally ready to take the plunge into sobriety but do not yet want to go through the symptoms of withdrawal. Unfortunately, symptoms that come along with quitting drugs are almost inevitable.

Alcohol withdrawals can kill you. Benzodiazepines, more commonly known as Xanax, can also kill you. Opiate withdrawals, interestingly enough, though it may feel like dying, will not kill you.

Why It’s Scary

Opiate withdrawal cannot kill you but the symptoms can seem like reason enough to keep using. When I first decided to get sober, I lasted about 5 hours opiate-free–long enough to get the sweaty chills. The second time, during my short stint in rehab, I was given Suboxone to help subside the physical symptoms of the withdrawal. Of course, there was a number of attempts in between then and when I actually got sober, but that doesn’t make it any less scary. I was well aware of what was going to happen to me if I chose to get sober, which was my very excuse for putting it off.

Symptoms and Medications

I’d like to paint the road to sobriety gold but that wouldn’t be realistic. The symptoms can come sporadically or all at once. Cold sweats, chills, vomiting, cramps, sneezing, a flu-like runny nose, diarrhea–those may be just the beginning. Seemingly worse, the nighttime drags on with restless legs, insomnia, cravings, dizziness and even depression. Though it seems crazy to “plan” to get sober, retrieving a prescription for Suboxone beforehand can ease some of the fear. Methadone is another way to assist with the withdrawal symptoms of opiates but long-term, high doses of methadone can lead you right back to square one.

Why I Went Cold Turkey

For some people, it almost sounds borderline insane to attempt going cold turkey. In my eyes, that was the only way I knew I was going to successfully quit. I had heard horror stories of people who had gotten sober using Methadone, only to have a lifelong sentence visiting the Methadone clinic. The withdrawals from long term Methadone use could be equally as scary as opiate withdrawals. As far as Suboxone was, in my opinion, the taste alone made me feel sick to my stomach. Going cold turkey was important to me because I knew I had to experience every aspect of withdrawals to remind myself what I never wanted to go through again. I knew if I used any medication to get through the withdrawals, it would leave the door open for me to relapse again. I knew that once I had felt every ache and pain, every inch of sickness, every restless night – I would know what it would feel like to repeat.

What to Do When It’s Over

Whether you go cold turkey or use medicine, I finally realized that withdrawal portion itself is actually the easy part. Making sure that you’re finding activities to occupy your time and ignoring cravings is another important part of the process. It may take a few days or even a week or two to get all the way through the aches and pains of the withdrawal symptoms but remind yourself that it is only temporary. It’s hard to recommend going cold turkey because the fear of withdrawals alone is overwhelming but not using medication can be helpful if you want to avoid further dependence on a prescription drug. However, with that said, do not feel discouraged if you do need medication – as long as you are free from opiates, you are one step further down the road than you were before.

Cassandra Huerta is a freelance writer who lives in an extremely small Michigan town and lives life one day at a time. She enjoys regularly entertaining her six-month-old daughter and can thank her wonderful fiance and coffee for all of her work.

The Dangers of Prescription Drugs

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TGDGprescriptionIt’s almost expected that when you visit the doctor, you will receive a prescription for medication. If you are in pain, the doctor prescribes medicine that will reduce the pain. If you are having anxiety or mental issues, the doctor or specialist will likely recommend pills for that. In fact, there is a pill that can be prescribed for nearly anything that ails you these days.

Obtaining “Legal” Prescription Drugs

As addicts, maybe even those who have not abused prescription drugs, we know how easy it can be to obtain a prescription. It may take a bit of “doctor shopping” before you find a doctor who is willing to write you a prescription, but it can be extremely easy to get the kind of drugs you are looking for. Doctor shopping is a term used to describe when a patient visits multiple doctors to try and obtain multiple prescriptions for controlled substances, usually addictive narcotics or opiates such as Vicodin or Oxycontin. Some addicts are reluctant to carry out such a scheme, so they just look for others who use prescription drugs and are willing to sell their prescriptions. Furthermore, since addictive narcotics are so commonly prescribed, it is easy to search anyone’s medicine cabinet to “find” what you are looking for.

Spiraling Down

A big concern with prescription drugs is that consistent use may lead to addiction and a higher potential for abusing other drugs–a downward spiral many people have traveled. This may not seem likely for all people who receive prescription medications, but to those of us with addictive tendencies, it seems like a guarantee. With a prescription like Oxycontin, for example, which has been nicknamed the “legal heroin,” it’s easy to see why a prescription medication can lead to problems. An additional concern is the dangerous effects of mixing prescription drugs with other drugs or alcohol. We often see accidental overdoses in cases where people have combined multiple prescription drugs at the same time, or most commonly, combined pills and alcohol. Sometimes this is accidental. It is easy to forget you took a pill, and then accidentally take another medicine or even sip a drink without even thinking about the risks.

But I’m not an Addict!

In sober recovery meetings, I regularly talked with people who were addicted to pills because at the time, I was abusing prescription drugs myself. The people who shared their stories about prescription drug addiction often started their story with how they had sustained an injury or got into an accident and were prescribed painkillers. They would go on and on with their life story and, for some reason, I could never understand the point of their story. Finally I figured it out: Unlike me, these addicts had not taken their prescriptions with the intention of getting high or ever relying on these pills to function, but addiction does not discriminate. Some of these people had never even touched an illegal drug in their lives. They had relied on the recommendations of their doctors and had taken the pills as they were prescribed. Once the prescription ran out, however, they realized that they had developed a dependency on the pills and were helpless without them. Once the dependency on the prescription pills took hold and their doctors wouldn’t renew their prescriptions, these people felt they had nowhere to turn but to the streets for either the purchase of more painkillers or the use of illicit drugs to satisfy their body’s need for the drug. Luckily, many of these people found their way to addiction treatment and rehab programs.

What Is Being Done about Our Prescription Addiction Problem?

So what’s being done about the abuse and reliance on prescription drugs? There has been implementation of programs to reduce incidence of doctor shopping, and also more stringent monitoring of what kinds of prescriptions are being abused (and handed out). However, it never seems to be enough. The CDC has reported that every year at least 15,000 people die from prescription drug overdoses. We have heard positive news about one prescription drug that has been a problem–the pharmaceutical company Actavis is ceasing production of a popular cough syrup commonly known as “Lean.” Yet, drug companies continue to release prescription drugs that are highly addictive. Zohydro, a new painkiller that is similar to Vicodin, has been shown to be much more dangerous than Vicodin because it only contains hydrocodone and no other active ingredients. For that reason, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick attempted to place a ban on the drug, but a federal judge overturned it.

We need more laws that protect the population from addictive prescription drugs. Must we wait and wonder when the madness from the pharmaceutical companies will end? Does it take years and years of drug abuse and overdoses to put more regulation on prescription drugs? It’s important to know that not all prescriptions are abused, but how many deaths will it take before someone in government or a regulatory position will step up and change the rules?

 

Cassandra Huerta is a freelance writer who lives in an extremely small Michigan town and lives life one day at a time. She enjoys regularly entertaining her six-month-old daughter and can thank her wonderful fiance and coffee for all of her work.

Methadone Treatment

June 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Treatment and Recovery News

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Methadone Is Used to Reduce Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Methadone Is Used to Reduce Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Most of us are familiar with the term methadone and relate it to a synthetic analgesic used to help heroin addicts detox from their active heroin use. However, there is more to the methadone story than just helping heroin addicts during withdrawal from the drug.

Heroin was created in 1937 in Germany, where there was need for a pain medication similar to morphine. Its use in the U.S. began in 1947 when it was discovered that there was cross-tolerance with heroin and morphine. This gave it the beneficial role of substituting for heroin in withdrawal circumstances. Heroin withdrawal can be debilitating and the discomfort, along with flu-like symptoms, lasts for several days. Those who are in withdrawal quite often use heroin again just to stave off the debilitating side-effects of “cold turkey” withdrawal. Although they pose no real danger to the health of the user, withdrawal symptoms are so uncomfortable and long-lasting that users are hard pressed to remain steadfast in their attempts to stop using heroin.

Methadone Has Dual Purposes

In use throughout most of the world as an effective treatment for cancers and other pain management situations, methadone has a dual purpose; as a pain relief provider and as a component in substance abuse treatment. Initial thinking was that substituting methadone for drugs of abuse would allow addicts the opportunity to restructure habits and behaviors that came with their addiction.

Methadone a Source of Secondary Addiction

The dosage used in the U.S. for a program of substance abuse recovery, often termed “methadone maintenance,” are believed to be high enough to assist heroin addicts in permanently kicking their heroin dependency. However, there are several gaps in logic regarding the use of methadone for those who are addicted to opiates. The first is that methadone has been found to be even more habit-forming than heroin, so a new addiction may be formed. As with nearly all drugs of this type (opiates), increasing doses are necessary to maintain a life free from related withdrawal symptoms, once addiction to methadone has occurred. If doses get too high, a methadone overdose becomes a real risk.

Because the costs of methadone treatment in the U.S. are primarily paid by taxpayers through government-assisted programs, the dose used has been capped at 100 mg. Most agencies will testify that their highest doses fall far short of that number. This then creates a need (desired) in the recipient to increase his dose on his own, which may lead him back to street drugs or buying methadone from other program participants. There are also many addicts who require much higher doses than the dose provided during recovery to combat the onset of withdrawal symptoms. Some can tolerate doses over 300 mg per day. This is one of the greatest faults found with methadone treatment in the US. There is little or no end date set for these programs, meaning that the addicts being treated may become life-long recipients of a substitute drug that creates an increased need for a higher dose and a cap on the dose they can receive.

Around the world, methadone programs vary in the dose amounts used in and in how it is dispensed. Program structure notwithstanding, there is little evidence for the efficacy of methadone to stop or stem the rising numbers of opiate addicts around the world.

 

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addiction counselor.

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