Lakeland, Florida is a picturesque community whose early 20th-century architecture draws visitors from all over the world. Located in the Tampa Bay area in central Florida, Lakeland’s population recently broke 100,000 residents. As the largest city between Tampa and Orlando, there are a number of industries that are blooming in the area.
Unfortunately, one of those happens to be drug trafficking. Florida has always had quite a reputation as the primary source of cocaine in the country. But as cocaine abuse throughout the country has tapered, new threats emerge, and Florida remains a primary avenue through which these drugs are moved.
Lakeland's Loss and the Opioid Epidemic
From 2005 to 2009, the number of deaths attributable to cocaine in Central Florida ranged from 522 to 838. Meanwhile, the number of deaths attributed to heroin never rose above 100 and were as low as 25 in 2006. Yet heroin use has increased significantly over the past 5 years and the number of deaths caused by the drug has skyrocketed as a result.
Much of this is attributable to the volume of prescriptions for opioid-based pain medications that have been written over the past 20 years. While heroin numbers may have been low throughout the period between 2005 and 2009, the number of deaths caused by prescription pain management medications was in the thousands every year, with the numbers getting higher and higher each year.
In 2005, around 1200 people lost their lives to prescription pain medications. By 2009 that number had increased to over 3000. Today, more than 30,000 Americans lose their lives annually to opioid-based drugs. Nearly half that number is currently attributable to pain medications.
Central Florida, Polk County, and Lakeland remain a major center for trafficking, cultivation, and distribution of these substances. More often than not, these pills were obtained illegally from pain management centers that law enforcement has dubbed “Pill Mills”. Doctor shopping remains a serious issue, although clinics are now much more careful about writing opioid prescriptions.
Nonetheless, the number of opioid-based overdose deaths has reached epidemic proportions, and where pain pills have failed, the black market in drugs like heroin and fentanyl has flourished. While much of the issue boils down to the illegal distribution on the black market for pain medications, doctors themselves and the healthcare industry at large have had a major impact on the crisis that we have in the US today.
Too many opioid prescriptions written for too many mundane ailments found patients easily hooked on medications that they could have otherwise treated with over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. As the situation spirals out of control, those in the healthcare industry are left treating the addiction as the streets are flooded with increasing amounts of potentially deadly drugs.
Lakeland Battles with Other Drugs
Stimulants remain a major problem for Central Florida amid the opioid crisis. Cocaine, methamphetamine, and now Flakka (aka Bath Salts) are widely available to users throughout the region.
Cocaine has always been a problem for the area as shipments coming from the Columbian cartels used Florida ports for trafficking. Labs throughout the US and Mexico can now easily produce methamphetamine even as access to the over-the-counter allergy medication that is used to make it has become restricted.
Bath Salts and Flakka, which are derived from khat, also represent a growing threat to the area. The dug produces a methamphetamine-like high with a higher potential for addiction.
Typically when bizarre or particularly egregious drug-induced crimes are reported in the news, the offender was on some stimulant at the time. This can be traced to the impact that these drugs have on the user’s brain.
While, statistically, crack and cocaine use are down across the country or have tapered somewhat, Florida’s close proximity to the South American countries in which the drug is grown and manufactured have caused that trend to be less apparent in the area.
There are a number of excellent options in the area for those that are looking to break a dangerous habit. Whether your drug of choice is opioids, stimulants, or even alcohol, Lakeland, Florida is no stranger to addiction. The rest of this article, then, is geared toward understanding what these different kinds of drugs do to a person’s body and brain chemistry, and the process of addiction treatment and rehabilitation.
For those who are seeking treatment, or have loved ones who are seeking treatment, this article should prove an excellent resource for understanding how various drugs affect the user and the steps needed to kick the habit.
While breaking a drug addiction is no easy task, millions of individuals have successfully made the journey. There is every reason to be hopeful that you or your loved one could be one of those who turns their lives around for the better.
Understanding Opioid Addiction
The opioid epidemic that America now faces began with the aggressive marketing and prescribing of opioid-based pain management medication. With more Americans dying each year, and statistics in other countries nowhere near as damning, the time has come to reassess how we prescribe opioids.
Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. The receptors are involved with feelings of pain and pleasure. Opioids also trigger the dopamine system which is involved the brain’s reward system. Activities like eating food and sex can trigger a dopamine reaction. When something really positive or exciting happens, dopamine is responsible for the good feelings you experience. For most of us, things like a promotion work, doing well on a test, getting a dream job, or the beginning of a new relationship are all dopamine-inducing events that let us know that we’ve done a good job.
When those feelings can be artificially stimulated, everything else, including our motivation toward real life goals, falls by the wayside. The stronger the drug, the more exaggerated this effect is. For instance, drugs like heroin and fentanyl produce a flood of dopamine that results in a rush of euphoria. This sensation is followed by several hours worth of peaceful tranquility.
Over time, two things happen. Firstly, the sensation becomes less potent after each use (tolerance). Secondly, the brain becomes dependent on the opioid in order to produce dopamine. Meanwhile, the user feels absolutely miserable once the drug has worn off.
Once the user becomes addicted, their primary impulse is to secure more of the drug, but they also require ever-increasing doses in order to produce the same effect. Statistically, the vast majority of those who overdose on prescription painkillers are not trying to kill themselves. Their deaths were accidental. It’s just that they need more and more of the drug, and there is only so much a human body can tolerate.
Opioids are respiratory depressants. One of the many effects that they have on the human body is that they slow your breathing after you’ve taken them. When an individual’s breathing has been slowed to the point of stopping altogether, that’s when an overdose has occurred. The user will be so out of it that they don’t know what’s happening. That’s what makes opioids so deadly.
Understanding Stimulant Addiction
Addiction to stimulants is quite different that addiction to opioids. Still, there is some overlap. While opioids make the user feel peaceful and tranquil, stimulants do just the opposite. They make the user feel energetic, fidgety, jumpy, and alert.
Instead of slowing the user’s breathing, they quicken the user’s heart rate. Again, it’s the dopamine channel that’s being overstimulated. The user’s brain is flooded with dopamine the moment they ingest a stimulant of any kind.
While crack and cocaine have been America’s favorite illicit drug since the 1980’s, methamphetamine and cathinone-derived stimulants like Flakka and Bath Salts are gaining in popularity. These drugs give the user a methamphetamine-like high but actually, have a higher addiction profile.
Over time, stimulants do serious damage to the user’s circulatory system, including the heart. They constrict the blood vessels causing decreased blood flow to the major organs of the body. This is most apparent on the user’s skin. If you’ve ever wondered why meth addicts appear to age rapidly, there’s a number of reasons for that. Firstly, meth causes you to sweat profusely. Secondly, there’s decreased blood flow. This causes the skin to become mottled and pockmarked. The eyes are also severely affected by drugs like meth and cocaine. Again, the blood vessels leading to the eyes themselves become constricted thus depriving the organs of much-needed nutrients.
Psychologically, the brain becomes used to the flood of dopamine that stimulants produce in users and is thus dependent on the drug to produce dopamine. The user also develops a tolerance to the drug, so over time, the effect is diminished.
The chemical stimulation and subsequent deprivation of dopamine, coupled with extended periods of time without sleep, and major vacillations in mood, can produce psychotic symptoms. The likelihood that psychotic symptoms will occur depends heavily on the frequency of use and how long the user has been abusing the drug. For those that suffer from perception disorders like schizophrenia, controlling the amount of dopamine the brain receives is what reduces psychotic symptoms. Antipsychotic medications bond to the neurotransmitter preventing it from reaching certain areas of the brain. Releasing a ton of dopamine artificially is, effectively, the opposite of how antipsychotics operate.
How Drug Addiction is Treated
Drug addiction is treated as if it were both a physical and psychological illness. The ultimate goal of treatment is not only to remove the drugs from the patient’s system, but also to give them the skills and ability to maintain a drug-free lifestyle for the years and months to come. The ultimate goal is to return the value and meaning to their life, but the journey is riddled with pitfalls
The first step, of course, is being able to admit that there was a serious problem in their lives. There must be a serious desire to change. Failing that, nothing that comes afterward will have the desired result. The first step in treating addiction disorders is a drug assessment.
The assessment is designed to determine the extent of the user’s abuse and the physiological impact that the drug has had on their body. This can vary wildly depending on the method the patient used to ingest their substance of choice. Those that injected are at the greatest risk of having contracted life-altering infections. The assessment will also try to determine if there are underlying mental health issues. Sometimes it’s unclear whether or not the mental health issues caused the drug abuse or whether the drug abuse caused the mental health issues. Either way, it will need to be treated in order for the patient to make a full recovery.
Any time a brain or body becomes used to a substance and then is suddenly deprived of it, there will be a period of adjustment that will feel, at the very minimum, uncomfortable. This is as true for marijuana as it is for heroin. Heroin, of course, comes with a physical withdrawal syndrome that compounds that feeling of discomfort with a number of physiological symptoms that make the process nearly unbearable.
For those detoxing from opioids, medications may be offered like methadone or suboxone to taper the user off of their addiction. These drugs can help reduce some of the worst symptoms of detox and make the process bearable.
Stimulants also can have some very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, there are no drugs available to help taper the users off stimulants nor manage the cravings. The best doctors can do is treat some of the symptoms like anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis, if it occurs.
For those in treatment for alcohol, the withdrawal syndrome associated with years of abuse can be fatal. Just because alcohol is legal, doesn’t mean that it’s safe to abuse.
Most substances will require inpatient detox. These programs generally last 28 days. There are some programs that last 3 months. Inpatient detox programs have shown themselves to be the most effective for drug rehabilitation.
The vast majority of individuals who relapse will do so during the post-acute phase of drug rehabilitation. Even after the drug has been purged from their system, the chemical damage that it has done to the brain has yet to repair itself.
When an individual artificially stimulates a chemical reaction using a foreign substance, the brain becomes dependent on that substance in order to produce that reaction. Almost every drug abused for recreational purposes stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine to a greater or lesser extent. Dopamine is triggered when something good happens. When you eat a nice meal, have a good time with your friends, and even peak experiences like getting into the college of your choice or getting a dream job, it’s dopamine that’s produced to let you know it’s a special moment.
For those that have long-term chronic abuse patterns, the brain only produces dopamine for the drug experience. What follows after detox, is an extended period of profound depression, anxiety, and emptiness. This is the true tragedy of drug abuse. Not only does the drug of choice replace the aspirations and dreams of those who abuse them, but it leaves them feeling truly empty without the drug.
For individuals who are in the post-acute phase of care, chronic oversight will be necessary to get them over this hump. Generally speaking, intensive outpatient programs are employed. In other cases, partial hospitalization programs can be effective. In either case, the patient will be expected to pass tox screens, go to counseling, and go to group meetings. There they can learn a number of effective strategies for coping with the cravings for the drug. Furthermore, they can become aware of the stressors that compel them to use. They can also come to terms with their reasons for using in the first place.
This phase is hard to get through. It takes a full year before the brain has completely corrected its chemistry. During that period, your loved one may appear withdrawn, moody, and depressed. They may seem anxious or out of it. It’s important to remember that their brains and bodies are still healing.
One of the most positive things an individual can do during this period is to get on a healthy diet and exercise. Exercise excites endorphins that bond to opioid receptors and are the brain’s natural opioid. This can help quicken the timeline on their recovery. It’s no easy task getting motivated to do that though.
Keep It Up
Full and complete abstinence maintained over the course of a year can restore individuals to their proper functioning. Beyond that period, however, sobriety must also be maintained. For those that have suffered from severe addictions in the past, 12 Step Programs that offer meetings for those in various stages of their recovery have proven remarkably effective for millions of people across the country. Over the long haul, a support structure is precisely what those in recovery need.
If you or someone you love is beginning the process of addiction treatment, the road may not be easy, but it is worth it. Every day, thousands of Americans make the choice to turn their lives around. What rehab gives them is the opportunity to commit to that choice for the rest of their lives. Real meaning and happiness cannot be manufactured artificially. On a long enough timescale, drugs leave their users hollow. They destroy lives. And life is too profound a gift to be wasted.