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Houston, Texas: Drug Culture and Treatment

Houston, a large city located in south Texas extends into Galveston Bay. It is the most populous city in Texas with 2.303 million people and it is the fourth most populous city in United States behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Houston, located in Harris County is known for its NASA Space Center, a center for astronaut training and for the Mission Control Center. The city is nicknamed, Space City. It is also known as a global city for international trade, business, culture, entertainment, science, fashion, education, sports, research, technology, media and medicine.

Due to the fact that Houston is so well known for its NASA Space Center, the City Sightseeing Tour is one of the most popular attractions for tourists. Johnson Space Center is another popular attraction.  For tourists who are looking to keep their feet on the ground and see something oddly interesting, the Eclectic Menagerie Park is a great place to view enormous sculptures such as daddy long legs, a hippo, etc.
If you live in Houston, and have fallen victim to substance abuse don’t hesitate to seek treatment. There are enormous resources in at your disposal.

While Houston is a popular city with lots of places to go and things to see, it is also bustling with drug activity. The city is known as a High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) because many drugs that come into the United States come in at the Port of Houston.  Opioids are a huge part of the drug problem, just like in every major city across the United States. Dubbed as America’s deadliest drug, Carfentanil can be found all over the streets of Houston.  Carfentanil, a powerful opioid is 10,000 times stronger than morphine and 100 times stronger than fentanyl.  Typically, the drug is used to sedate elephants. Heroin, another type of opioid is also a popular drug that can be found on the streets of Houston. In 2016, 364 people died from drug-related overdose deaths in Houston. Seventy-three of those deaths were from heroin-related overdoses in Harris County.

An even greater problem that the big city is facing is a cocaine crisis. In 2016, cocaine took the lives of 205 people in Harris County. Methamphetamine has resurfaced as well, killing 84 people in 2016.

On average, an overdose victim in Houston is in the middle age range though drugs affect all age types. Older users tend to use cocaine and methamphetamines while the younger generation experiments with marijuana and opioids.

Drugs are a problem in Houston because of the criminal activity that goes on in the city.  Houston scores a, 4 out of 100, which means the city is full of crime, assault being the highest rate- followed by robbery, rape and murder. The crime is high due to several factors, a large one being gang activity and another factor being unemployment issues.

Focusing More on Healing Than Punishment

Harris County, like many other counties nationwide are putting more focus into healing people with detoxification and life skills training instead of punishment for addiction. Before the 1990’s and the internet, children were raised with very different morals and parents were instilling life skills into their children. Flash forward to 2018 and the internet is teaching the next generation. Spending just 30 minutes on social media will give anyone a firm description of what that looks like and it’s not good. Where are the life skill lessons? Where is responsibility being taught? It’s found very few and far between, within families who continue to honor the way their own parents raised them. Without those basic life skills, children become destructive, confused adults who typically turn toward drugs as an escape.

In Houston, this problem is at an even higher rate because of the port’s access. Drugs are constantly being smuggled in, so they are more available.  Proactive drug trafficking education programs and drug awareness can provide some hope for struggling and recovery addicts. People do not need to go to prison for being addicted to opioids or other drugs, they need to be healed. Drug addicts need rehabilitation.

What is a Heroin Addiction Vaccine?

A new treatment that uses antibodies within the system to block drugs from pleasure and reward centers are being administered to people who are addicted to heroin and leaving jail. A Vivitrol injection is an approach to get a handle on the opioid crisis but also to fight against the spike in HIV, as well. This vaccine could provide a whole new look on the war against drug addiction.

Helping a Friend to Fight Their Drug Addiction

Watching a friend succumb to drug addiction makes a person feel helpless, especially when the signs appear to denote an addiction without any real proof.

Drug Abuse/Addiction Signs:

  • Behavior:
    • Sudden withdrawal from family and friends
    • Lack of concern for personal appearance or hygiene
    • Loss of interest in favorite activities, hobbies or sports
    • Sudden change in behavior or having mood swings regularly

All of these can be sign of a depressed person as well.

  • Physical:
    • Sudden weight loss or gain
    • Shakes, tremors and/or slurred speech
    • Bloodshot or glassy eyes and/or dilated pupils
    • Frequent nosebleeds
    • Continuous runny nose
  •  Miscellaneous:
    • Missing stuff like valuables, money or prescription drugs
    • Burnt pieces of foil
    • Plastic bottles, pipes or cans that have been pierced
    • Spoons or syringes in odd places, could have a black tinge to them

Ways to Help

  • Always Stay Positive: When talking to a friend about their drug addiction, you want to stay positive. Blaming and overreacting will not allow a person who is addicted to drugs stay rational. It will not lead to drug rehabilitation and could in fact, make the drug issue even worse.
  • Tell Your Friend About Your Concerns: Talk to your friend about some signs you have seen and converse with your friend. Avoid words that come off as a lecture, “I know you are doing this” and “I want you to stop it now!” Let your friend know that you are concerned about them.
  • Avoid Emotional Language: Using guilt-trips on a person who is addicted to drugs isn’t going to help them or you. Preaching, bribing and threatening won’t work either. They will only feel a desire to run back to their drug.
  • Don’t Enable: Enabling is when you allow a person to get their drugs by buying it for them. Another way to enable a person is to allow that person to live with you when you know they refuse to get help. If they won’t seek treatment, it is not your obligation to allow them to place to stay. This can be hard, but necessary.
  • Do Your Research: Learn about the drug rehabilitation process. When you talk to your friend about getting help, you want to be able to provide answers. Doing some research can give some basic answers to some questions they may ask. It can be comforting for all involved.
  • Learn About The Cycle of Addiction: Addiction happens in a cycle that starts the moment a person uses (initial use) and continues through abuse (when a person reuses) and on through tolerance (when a person needs more of a dosage to sustain the same high and into dependence (where a person is reliant on the drug to function in everyday life). It is at this point that true addiction (when a person has withdrawal symptoms in not using the drug) becomes an issue. The cycle of addiction runs on through relapse (after a person has sobered up and chooses to use again) and then starts to repeat all over again. Learning this cycle can be very helpful.
  • Drop It or Lock It-For people who have medications on hand, it’s important to lock them up if they are not being used. It’s also important to keep a count of medication that is on hand because someone could be taking them little by little. People are addicted to drugs will do whatever is necessary to get their fix. If the medication just isn’t needed anymore, toss it. There are many drop boxes located in Houston for just this reason. If you can’t get to one, please don’t flush them down the toilet as they can contaminate the water supply. Instead, crush them up and put them into used coffee grounds. Since some people will dig through the trash to look for unused drugs, you don’t want someone else finding them.

The Drug Rehabilitation Process

Step 1: Assessment: Technically, if a person has chosen to go to drug rehab then Step 1 has been completed, which is acknowledging and accepting help. Having said that, step 1 involves the assessment period. An assessment is used to gather some information about an incoming patient. This is important so that the right type of treatment can be put into motion. Therefore, some basic information about drug history is necessary.

Step 2: Intake: The intake period covers some more information that is needed to help the facilities staff to learn more about what a patient will need going forward. This is a more detailed look at a patient’s family medical, mental and drug history. It is also during the intake that financial arrangements are made and a patient is fully admitted into the facility. During this period of time, a patient is also given a list of items that cannot be brought in to the facility (drugs/alcohol, food/drink, weapons, revealing clothing, pornography, over-the-counter medication, etc.). After having their bags checked, patients are then assigned a room, if they are doing an inpatient treatment.  Usually, a physical examination and some lab tests are done during this time.  The doctor has to make sure the body can handle any withdrawal symptoms while in detox. The doctor or nurse will take vital signs and check for any needle marks (from injecting drugs). The lab test usually consists of a urine test that checks for what type of drugs are in the system.

Step 3: Detoxification: Detoxification (detox) is the next step. This is an important step in the process because the body has to be completely cleared of drugs before healing can begin. Detox can last 5-7 days and any withdrawal symptoms will usually start between 6-12 hours after the last drug dosage. Generally, doctors will prescribe a small dosage of Methadone or some other medication to help ease drug cravings.

Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Drug Cravings
  • Fever
  • Muscle Pain
  • Racing Heart
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

During detox, a patient is always watched because sometimes a patient has a hard time with it. If this happens, doctors are able to help patients immediately.

Step 4: Inpatient Treatment: Inpatient treatment starts after a patient has gone through the detox period. This is the time where therapy becomes a part of everyday life for a patient. There are several different types of therapies that will be used and some facilities even offer meditation, yoga, art and music therapy on a regular basis. Another therapy that is used often is called Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). This type of therapy is used to help patients to rid distorted thinking from their minds. Distorted thinking deals in a ten part way of thinking and it’s all negative.

Distorted Thinking:

  • All or Nothing-black-or-white thinking
  • Overgeneralization- thinking “always” or “never”
  • Negative Mental Filter-seeing only the negative
  • Discounting the Positive-positives don’t matter, only negatives do
  • Jumping to Conclusions-mind-reading: believing you know what others are thinking; fortune-telling: always saying “what if”
  • Magnification-comparing unfairly
  • Emotional Reasoning-feeling something and believing it’s true
  • Should Statements-saying I should do or should be this or that
  • Labeling-calling oneself names or others names
  • Personalization- blaming oneself for others actions

These all provide a very negative outlook which leads to anxiety and depression which in turn, can lead to drug use.  CBT can help unravel the reasons as to why a person is thinking so negatively about themselves by categorizing negative thoughts and using rebuttals instead.

Inpatient treatment is a 28 –day program called Residential Treatment Center (RTC) but patients can choose to stay longer or it can be recommended from a doctor that a patient stay longer.  Some patients stay 30, 60 or even 90 days. For patients who keep relapsing after they have been released, a doctor may recommend an every longer stay of 4-6 months.

Some rehab facilities encourage outings with friends and family members once a patient is feeling better. Once inpatient treatment is completed, a patient is free to go home. This can be a hard adjustment for some patients and a sober living home makes more sense. Sober living homes are great for patients who want some independence but not too much. Within these homes, a person in recovery can get what they need: structure, support and guidance while also building a new life for themselves.

Step 5: Outpatient Treatment: Outpatient treatment is the next step after inpatient treatment is complete. There is a two-step process to outpatient treatment. The first step starts with a program called PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program). This program is designed to help patients to adjust from a full-time program at the facility to a partial one. It takes places for 6 hours a day, 5-7 days a week. Patients are free to go back home or to their sober living home after PHP.  During PHP, patients are taught about coping skills. Some facilities begin teaching this in RTC. Coping skills are a set of skills that can be used to ward off the desire to do drugs.  They can also be used when triggers happen. Triggers are little moments of anger, depression, anxiety or sadness that typically reflect a memory of something that happened in the past that has yet to be resolved or still weighs heavily on the heart. Coping skills can provide a patient with many choices to turn to instead of drugs. Group therapy is a focus point during PHP.

The second step in outpatient treatment is IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program). IOP takes place in facility for 3 hours a day, 3 times a week. IOP continues to talk about coping skills but is more heavily focused on group therapy. IOP is like an introductory phase to support groups, which becomes a huge part of the next step in the drug rehabilitation process.

Step 6: Aftercare: Aftercare happens after all the treatments have finished but it is something that a patient will start to learn about in RTC, and continue to learn about through PHP and IOP. Aftercare means a patient is free to fly solo in their recovery, but it also means that they are not entirely alone. Aftercare means taking care of oneself and sticking to recovery to avoid a relapse. Many patients are able to do this with the help of a support group. Support groups can be very rewarding because they provide support from people who are going through the same exact thing that every person within the same room is going through, fighting addiction. Addiction is a life-long fight. As patients will learn in RTC, there is no cure, there is only recovery. Support groups can allow people to talk about their feelings and their cravings without being judged. There are sponsors available within these groups that also help patients to stay on their path to recovery.

Aftercare also means finding a way to stay busy. Addiction happens when people are not keeping busy both mentally and physically. For people who are idle, anxiety and depression becomes an issue which is why so many homeless or unemployed people turn to drugs. People who do not have a goal or an ambition to meet in life end up turning to an addiction of some type. Staying busy means working, going back to school and/or finding a hobby, it means filling up ones day with activities. By staying busy, depression and anxiety cannot find a way in. Hobbies are a great way to stay busy because they are fun. School and work is most often not looked at as fun. Hobbies on the other hand, should be. Hobbies can include anything: writing, drawing, painting, reading, singing, dancing, sports, horse-back riding, juggling, yoga, Pilates, acrobats, etc. A hobby can be anything positive that keeps the mind off of drugs.

Aftercare means eating healthy. When a person is missing important vitamins in their body, things like anxiety, depression and illness are more prevalent.  To do this, a person can take supplements but why not learn how to cook? Cooking is a great hobby and people who thought they could only burn water find out that they are really good at cooking. Plus, there are a ton of healthy recipes out there. Vitamins and minerals are found in veggies and fruits and are great for balancing mood.

Aftercare is about taking care of oneself and staying away from drugs to avoid a relapse. Rehabilitation requires a lot of hard work and there are many people who relapse right after they are released. To avoid this, it is important to sign up for a support group and attend it regularly but staying busy and eating healthy are also important.