The death of the artist Prince has shed light on a conversation that’s not discussed very often – treatment for opioid abuse and addiction. It’s been reported that Prince’s death was caused by a painkiller addiction and overdose. It’s also been reported that people close to the artist sought substance abuse help for him that was scheduled to begin the day after his death.
Even if these reports don’t tell the whole story, the issue remains that it is critical to get treatment for opioid addiction – whether the addiction is to prescription pain medicine or heroin.
Opiate addiction doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Like many other chronic diseases, addiction cannot be cured, but it can be treated and managed. A person suffering from addiction can regain a healthy, productive life through a variety of treatment options.
Seeking treatment and continuing recovery are ultimately the responsibility of the addict. But support from family and friends is often needed to locate treatment, help the person stay in treatment and increase their chances of a successful recovery.
Why is opiate addiction so difficult to stop?
Managing opioid dependence is not simply a matter of “getting clean” or stopping all drug use. Once the brain becomes addicted, a lack of opioids results in powerful withdrawal symptoms that can be very difficult to overcome. This change in brain function can trigger cravings months or even years later. Opioid withdrawal is difficult to endure and is a major reason for relapse and continued abuse.
How are opioid addictions treated?
The two main categories of opioid addiction treatment are behavioral and pharmacological.
Behavioral treatment, which includes counseling and psychotherapy, addresses the mental and emotional reasons behind the addict’s drug abuse. Without understanding why the behavior occurred in the first place, relapse is much more likely.
Pharmacological treatment uses medication to counter the effects of opioids on the brain and can be used to relieve withdrawal symptoms, help overcome drug cravings or treat an overdose. Medications are prescribed as part of a successful treatment program; they are not a cure for dependence on drugs.
What is medication-assisted treatment?
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) combines medication with behavioral therapy to help patients overcome substance abuse disorders.
Recently, there has been more discussion about what addiction treatment should include. Some people believe medications such as methadone and buprenorphine can help someone going through opiate withdrawal or help reduce cravings over time. Others believe there is no role for drugs or medications of any kind for someone addressing an addiction.
There is not necessarily a right or wrong kind of treatment. The treatment that helps someone stop using drugs and improve their life and the lives of their loved ones is the right treatment for that person.
Many people choose to use drugs; even more people choose to use alcohol. Why do some people become addicted while others don’t? Likewise, many people choose to eat chips, soda and burgers; others choose not to exercise. Why do some people become diabetic or develop high blood pressure while others don’t? Just as no one sets out to become a diabetic, no one sets out to become an addict.
Yet, addicts are often judged negatively, while people with diabetes and hypertension receive medical care and medication to help manage their conditions. Judgment only serves to make people feel bad about themselves and lower the chances they will reach out for help. A person with addiction deserves to be treated like any other patient with a medical disease.
LIUNA members can reach out to their local health and welfare fund or Member Assistance Program to review whether they have substance abuse treatment coverage and the extent of the benefit.
NA is an abstinence-based fellowship/program. In principle, NA is opposed to the use of maintenance therapy.
National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Service – 800-662-HELP (4357)
Get information on hotlines, counseling services or drug treatment options in your state.
Families Anonymous (FA) – 800-736-9805
FA is a 12-step fellowship/program for families and friends who have experienced the destructive behavior of someone close to them, whether caused by drugs, alcohol or related behavioral problems.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-TALK (8255)
[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]