Heroin and Opioid Abuse in Huntington Beach, California
The highly publicized opioid epidemic that has taken over America can be seen in the latest statistics coming out of Orange County as well. Health officials have reported higher rates of opioid-related overdoses, hospitalizations, and treatment for addictions across the board. This number has steadily grown throughout the last few years. Fortunately, Huntington Beach drug rehabs are here to help!
Despite the fact that Huntington Beach has a relatively thriving economy, there are very few areas in the US that haven’t been impacted by the opioid epidemic. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the heroin and street grade narcotics are much easier to come by than they were a decade ago, and secondly, many pain management patients find themselves getting hooked on the medications their doctors prescribe for them.
Despite the fact that drugs like naloxone are now readily available to emergency medical personnel, the number of overdoses due to drug abuse in Hunting Beach hit a 10 year high in 2016. Two-thirds of that figure were due to opioid and heroin abuse.
While Huntington Beach law enforcement is trying to combat the issue, police departments find themselves routinely understaffed and under-resourced to deal with the ever-growing problem. Meanwhile, Huntington Beach provides a supply line for Mexican drug cartels to distribute narcotics.
The spike in the easy availability of illegal narcotics has health officials, law enforcement, ad legislators devoting a good deal of thought to solutions. The numbers seem to indicate, however, that the problem is only getting worse.
How bad has it gotten?
The average life expectancy of a US resident actually has become lower over the past 4 years.
Is Prescription Pain Medication a Gateway Drug?
In the 1990’s, doctors became increasingly aware of the problem of pain management. Pharmaceutical companies recognized an opportunity to fill a need. During that period, the market became flooded with various kinds of pain management medications designed from synthetic variations on opium. These synthetic analogs were known as opioids.
Doctors spurred forth by having a specific kind of medication to meet a specific kind of need began prescribing pain management meds to patients that were more than happy to take them. The doctors are partly to blame, but much of the issue was caused by pharmaceutical companies that downplayed the deleterious effects of opioids. America soon became the most medicated country in the world, with more opioid prescriptions per capita than any other country on earth.
These medications were said to be safe and effective for treating pain. As it turns out, neither was completely true. Pharmaceutical companies later were forced to pay over half a billion dollars in fines for the misleading and fraudulent nature of their claims. But by then, there was a nation of people that were hooked on these drugs.
The doctors themselves are partly to blame as well. Despite being under pressure from advocacy groups to treat pain more seriously, the sheer volume of prescriptions being written for addictive substances went well beyond good sense. It became so easy for patients to get prescriptions for drugs like Oxycontin, that a black market developed around doctor shopping.
Mules would be paid to fabricate symptoms of pain, get prescriptions for opioids, and then later sell them on the street for huge profits.
Meanwhile, the cartels and other manufacturers of heroin recognized a major chance to cash in. Since opioid addicts develop a tolerance to the drug the more they take, it was an opportunity to sell them something stronger. Today, both heroin and fentanyl can be manufactured in street labs anywhere that there is enough space to do it.
The doctors themselves were ill-equipped to the task of prescribing these drugs. In some instances, patients were supplied far too much for far too long to manage acute pain symptoms that only required a week or a month worth of medication. By the time their prescriptions ran out, they had developed a habit and they took to the streets in order to satisfy it.
These factors and other environmental stressors have led us to the situation that we have today: there are more people dying from opioid addiction and overdose than ever before.
Opioid Abuse in Orange County by the Numbers
While the term “epidemic” gets thrown a lot in terms of opioid addiction, it remains apt. Seven out of every ten deaths caused by drug overdose were caused by opioids. Between 2011 and 2015 there were over 7,457 cases of opioid overdoses. Since 2005 there has been 141% increase in the number of emergency room visits due to opioid overdose. Huntington Beach, being located on the shoreline, is statistically more likely to have large amounts of drug trafficking in the area.
What to Do if You or Your Loved One is Addicted to Opioids
The remainder of this article is geared toward familiarizing addicts and the people who love them on treatment for heroin and opioid abuse. While it’s easy to blame these folks for poor choices, there is a lot of manipulation that happened behind the scenes that has given rise to the problem we, as a country, now face.
The focus, then, has to be on treatment. For Huntington Beach residents that find themselves in the thrall of an opioid addiction, the process can be demoralizing, confusing, and frightening. For those that have escalated their abuse to heroin, a tough journey awaits. But for as difficult as things may seem now, that journey is worth it.
Understanding Heroin and Opioid Abuse Treatment
Those who have suffered from addiction at any time in their lives will tell you that recovery is a process that never really ends. Every day presents the challenge of sobriety and there’s no such thing as ever having really beating addiction. The sense to that framework of understanding is that recovery only presents those who suffer from addiction the option not to use. Addiction offers no such option.
Very few of those who find themselves in rehab are self-referrals. More often than not, some calamitous event like an overdose lands them in the hospital. It is only through a life-threatening event like this that a lot of people seek the help they need.
So what does that first step entail? Addiction treatment comes in discrete stages. Those include:
- Assessment / Pre-Intake
- Post-Acute Care
- Continued outpatient care
Assessment and Pre-Intake
The first step on the road to recovery is a drug assessment. During the assessment, a patient may be asked to give a blood or urine sample. The sample will be tested to determine how much of the drug is in the patient’s system.
In addition, the patient will be given a full physical workup. This is designed to determine if there are any other conditions that could impact the patient’s recovery. For heroin addicts, there are often respiratory infections or other blood diseases that pose serious medical problems. Those who are addicted to heroin tend not to be picky about the quality of the needle they use to inject the drug. Diseases spread rapidly.
On top of that, chronic drug users tend to have compromised immune systems. They tend to be malnourished. Often, there are underlying psychiatric issues that formed the foundation of the drug abuse in the first place. Doctors will want to have all this information and a patient history.
For those that are in treatment for prescription pain med addiction, the health problems may not be as obvious. Constipation and malnutrition are often present. On top of that, opioid users are at an increased risk of developing respiratory disorders. Regardless of how the problem came to be, opioid addiction takes a physical and psychological toll on the patient’s body and mind.
Doctors treating patients for opioid addiction must have a full psychiatric and physical workup of a patient to determine complications that might arise from the detox process.
Detox is often the most frightening part of the recovery process. It is by no means comfortable or easy. But most rehab facilities nowadays are equipped with drugs like suboxone or methadone that can ease many of the worst symptoms of heroin withdrawal. These drugs are designed to taper users off the addiction to stronger drugs like fentanyl or heroin.
Those that detox cold turkey can expect to experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Extreme agitation
- Uncontrollable Yawning
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle cramps
- Uncontrollable muscle movements
- Rapid heart beat
- Excessive sweating
Tapering off the opioid addiction can profoundly reduce the pain associated with detoxing. It cannot, however, make the process completely comfortable. Symptoms will begin within the first 24 hours and last around 5 to 7 days. In some cases, it can last longer.
Once the process has completed, the drug is physically out of the patient’s system. In other words, the physical addiction has been kicked. But another battle remains.
Post-Acute Patient Care
The second phase of the process of recovery is known as post-acute. Acute care refers to the process of detox when the patient is most vulnerable and most in need of immediate medical oversight.
Despite the name, the majority of those who overdose do so during the post-acute phase. This is because this period poses its own unique set of challenges.
When a user gets high on heroin, the drug creates an immediate sense of euphoria. That feeling is the brain being flooded with dopamine. Dopamine is involved in the pleasure and reward system of the brain. When something really good happens to you, or you’re really excited about something, that’s dopamine telling your brain that you should be happy.
Opioids artificially stimulate this process. While the physical addiction is gone, the psychological addiction remains. The brain, which has been artificially stimulated by the drug, can no longer produce dopamine on its own. It can take up to a year to reverse the impact of heroin on the brain’s chemistry.
During this period, former addicts experience a profound sense of depression and anxiety. While doctors can treat some of the symptoms, the damaged dopamine system must learn to reset itself on its own. Patients have described the feeling as “emptiness” or “hopelessness”. Many have described it as worse than detox.
It’s a major stumbling block in the road to recovery. But under the right conditions, it can be overcome.
Approaches to Treatment
Click here to learn more about Inpatient vs. Outpatient treatment
There are three options available to those in recovery:
- Inpatient Treatment
- Partial Hospitalization
- Intensive Outpatient Treatment
Depending on how long the addiction has gone on for, and how severe the likelihood of relapse is, each of these approaches can be effective. Inpatient treatment programs offer the most restrictive environments. Patients are kept busy, meet in groups, socialize with one another, and get one-on-one therapy.
For those with no place to go, they can be linked with housing services and outpatient providers to find them adequate housing that caters to recovering addicts. Sober living arrangements are key to not falling back into old patterns.
Outpatient treatment is designed for those who are both highly motivated to kick their habit and have a place to go back to where they won’t be tempted to use. It’s ideal for those that have jobs and families waiting for them when they return. Continued care can be worked around their schedule. Meetings with counselors and group meetings can be done at night if they work during the day. It’s the least restrictive, but it depends on the willingness of the patient to commit fully to their recovery.
Somewhere in the middle lie partial hospitalization programs. During the day, the patient spends time at the hospital working with staff and getting treatment. The patient will also be expected to take random tox screens. At the end of the day, the patient is allowed to go home. For patients that are in supportive care environments, partial hospitalization offers an excellent path to recovery.
It’s critically important that a recovering addict maintain their sobriety. Failure to do so will result in having to go through the entire process all over again. Psychotherapy has proven itself very successful at treating addiction by rooting out the main impulses. Addicts are trained to become aware of stressors that lead to cravings. They are taught to manage those stressors and work on healthier ways of managing their impulses. In time, the cravings can be managed if not altogether vanquished.
Many of those in recovery have found 12 step programs remarkably helpful. They’re a place for those that have suffered through the pain of addiction to discuss their issues with one another. They offer each other support and give those who are just making the journey a community of individuals to network with and reach out to when things seem darkest.
As we said earlier, recovery is a journey and not a destination. Recovery returns your power. It gives back your ability to make a choice.