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The Drug Crisis in Tacoma, Washington

The drug addiction crisis in Tacoma, Washington continues, even though the type of drugs that are in demand have changed.  Fifteen years ago, methamphetamines were the most popular illicit drugs. Today, Tacoma faces a new crisis with the rising addiction to heroin and opioid painkillers. As a result, between 2011 and 2013, publicly funded drug addiction facility admission in Pierce County has gone up 152%.

If you live in Tacoma, and have fallen victim to substance abuse don’t hesitate to seek treatment. There are enormous resources in at your disposal.

In 2002, 129 people in Peirce County admitted themselves for treatment for opioid addiction. By 2015, that number had risen to 438, revealing a crisis of epidemic proportions. The most alarming aspect of the crisis is the age of many users.  Among Tacoma area high school seniors, six percent in on month have used a prescription painkiller solely for getting high.  As addiction increases so do the deaths from opioids with a thirty-two percent death rate in Pierce County alone.

Opioids are just part of the crisis. What may start out for many as a recreational use of painkillers found in their parent’s medicine chest, quickly escalates to a full-blown addiction. As prescription drugs become scarcer, many addicts turn to the less expensive alternative of heroin, which produces a similar high.

Statewide, admissions into heroin treatment facilities have tripled.  From 2008 to 2014, heroin overdose deaths have doubled. Four out of five heroin addicts admit that their addition started with prescription drugs. Like many states, Washington is now suing drug companies who manufacture drugs like OxyContin and Fentanyl for the harm they have inflicted on the community.

On the street level, however, the immediacy of the crisis requires an immediate solution. Narcan, a drug that counteracts an opioid-induced overdose is being distributed to law enforcement officers in Tacoma as well as paramedics. As first responders to most overdose situations, these individuals become the last hope for someone near death from a drug overdose.

Though the drug does not end the addiction, it will perhaps give an addict a second chance to choose recovery over substance abuse.

Determining Drug Use in a Loved One

When you suspect and confront someone who is slipping into opioid addiction or heroin addiction, you will usually be met with denial. Initially drug use may have been under their control and easily hidden, but as it escalates to addiction, that control is lost. Drugs have become such a focus over that individual’s life that all other aspects of life including family and friends, hobbies and interests and even love lose their meaning and are disregarded. Once addicted, the individual will say or do anything to dissuade any efforts to help them. But there are clear signs that drug use is taking a toll on the life of a loved one and that they need help. By bringing these symptoms to their attention, there is the possibility that they will accept support for their problem, but that starts with identifying the critical red flags of heroin and opioid addiction.  

  • They have sudden and unexpected mood swings-often shifting from extreme happiness to crying
  • Their personality changes-they do not seem like they person you know
  • They often seemed confused-not able to understand rudimentary things
  • They are incoherent-slurring their speech or fumbling with words
  • They seem to have lost interest in appearance or personal hygiene-not bathing or wearing the same clothes for long periods of time
  • Their sleeping patterns have become erratic-often staying up all night or sleeping for hours on end during the day
  • They have lost their appetite-appearing to not eat at all, or very little
  • They experience rapid weight loss-thinning without exercising
  • They exhibit reckless behavior-performing reckless acts that could harm them
  • They develop a distant look in the eyes-they seem to always to be staring off into space
  • They become withdrawn-not associating with family and friends
  • They lose any fiscal responsibility-always out of money or falling into debt
  • They experience social consequences for their behavior-losing a job or quitting school
  • They become secretive-withholding information about their whereabouts and deleting texts from their phone

Intervention, Pre-intake and Hospitalization

Staging an intervention can help a loved one realize that they are truly loved. Confronting them with the facts of their addiction and recruiting friends and family to collectively join in to persuade them to seek help is the only solution. 

At the very worst, they have experienced an overdose. As distressing as this episode may be, the experience may be an opportunity to express to them the severity of their problem.

If hospitalized for their overdose, the hospital may become a conduit for transitioning a person directly to a rehab facility.  Acting as a pre-intake, the hospital can help ease that shift from the trauma of an overdose to the chance to recover. Pre-intake testing can take place right in the hospital.

Pre-Intake Tests for Rehab

Physical Exam- physicians will test to see the physical impact heroin or opioids has had on the patient and if an extended period of hospitalization is necessary before sending them to a rehab center.

Psychiatric Evaluation-a psychiatrist will evaluate the mental state of the patient, both to understand the influence heroine or opioids has had on the psyche as well as determining any mental health issues that may be influencing drug use.

Drug Testing- Testing to determine what drugs are being used helps define the treatment plan and identifies the complexity of the addiction. Often addicts will be dependent on numerous types of drugs at once, all of which requires a specialized approach to treatment.

A Background Evaluation-Understanding a person’s past, helps understand the future of recovery. Knowing the deeper causes of addiction may be resolved during a hospital stay, but if indications of past abuse, mental illness or history of addiction in the family can be determined early, than a more robust treatment plan can be devised.

Most importantly, physicians, psychotherapists and recovery specialists will make sure the individual is ready for the next stage of treatment. Beds in recovery centers are hard to come by as so many people are seeking help. Making sure that the individual is ready to move forward is essential for the success of their treatment.

What to Expect During Intake, the Most Commonly Asked Questions

Everyone entering rehab will have questions. Recovery specialists will be there to answer those questions and aid an addicted person preparing for treatment to best understand what will be happening over the course of treatment.

Q: What does my personal health have to do with my addiction?
A:  Any illness including diseases contracted during addiction like HIV impact drug treatment. It is critical to know the medical makeup of a patient before treatment begins.

Q: Why am I being asked psychiatric questions?

A: Much like the medical exam, a psychiatric exam helps determine if mental illnesses are present or if the drugs have had impact on cognitive ability, speech and memory. These factors must be taken into consideration for proper addiction treatment to occur.

Q: After detox, can I leave?

A: Detox is not the one and only step in treatment. There is a long course of inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment and aftercare that occurs well after detox.

A: Why are you asking questions about my family? I’m the one being treated.

Q:  Family background has a lot to do with drug addiction in many instances. A history of physical abuse, a history of alcohol or drug addiction in the family and other factors may be contributing to the current addiction. Informing themselves about your past, helps recovery specialists realize a plan of action.

Q: What specific treatment will I receive?

A: Every treatment is customized to the patient. Using all the data acquired including medical, psychiatric evaluations as well as understanding the severity of the addiction will help create a treatment plan that will be designed specifically to fit the patient’s circumstances.

Q: Why are you prescribing medicines?

A: There are some medications that can help with addiction recovery. They can ease the symptoms of withdrawal experienced during detox and help manage cravings. The recovery specialist will decide if medications need to be prescribed.

Q: How long will I be here?

A: Residential inpatient treatment may last thirty to ninety days, depending on the progress of the patient and the severity of the addiction. Beyond that, outpatient programs may be recommended.

Check out more Frequently Asked Questions about rehab by clicking here: FAQ’s

Detoxing from Heroin and Opioids

Detox is a process that eliminates drugs from the body. Most recovery specialists would not recommend anyone attempting to detox alone. This is due to the risks of medical emergencies that might occur. Within a recovery facility, specialists can monitor the detox process and ensure the health of the patient. Medications may be used to help ease the symptoms of detox.

Accelerated Detox

For some a rapid detox method may be used. The treatment is considered controversial, though many patients have found it helpful as it shortens the time frame for detox. With an accelerated detox, a person can be free of opiates within three to seven days.  Many recovery specialists question the use of accelerated detox, mostly because of the lingering emotional impact that results after the treatment. Also, there are many who have concerns about the medical hazards associated with the process. This is because the body is essentially put to sleep using a sedative. This allows the patient to basically sleep through all the painful withdrawals and to wake up drug-free. 

Skeptics of accelerating detox feel that the brevity of the process may lead to relapse, as the patient does not undergo the personal experience of the harsh realities of withdrawal symptoms. Without that experience, many specialists feel, a patient can easily slip back into addiction.  For most, traditional detox methods are preferred.

Natural Detox

Natural detox is another approach free of symptom-easing medications. Under the supervision of a recovery professional, the patient changes diet, uses therapeutic activities including massage and acupuncture and conducts some exercise sessions. The natural approach has become popular for taking a lifestyle approach to something as unpleasant as detox. Some also suggest it helps addicts transition more easily into a healthy lifestyle after the detox is complete.

Managing Withdrawals

Withdrawal symptoms of detox are what most addicts fear most. The body begins responding violently to the absence of drugs with physical, psychological and emotional symptoms.

  • Extreme tension
  • Panic attacks
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fitful sleep
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle stiffness and pain like a severe flu

What is withdrawal? How long does it last?

Finding a Treatment That Fits

After detox, the process of recovery will be decided by professionals who have evaluated all the personal information of the patient and have outlined a treatment plan. Inpatient residential care is usually the recommendation for most opioid and heroin addicts.  In some cases, partial hospital program may be implemented to manage a milder form of addiction, using a combination of hospitalization and outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment is for the least severe of cases and may be recommended for patients who simply need support outside of a residential facility.

Long-Term Inpatient Treatment

The advantage of long-term inpatient treatment, which can run a rigorous course for thirty to ninety days, is the helpful and protective environment provided to someone recovering from addiction.   Residential treatment offers:

-24/7 care and medical support-An important factor for severe withdrawal situations and where other medical conditions may compound the addiction treatment. Every residential treatment center is also a partial medical center, looking after the physical well-being of every patient working toward recovery.

-A support network of recovering addicts- Here a patient can learn from the experiences of others and realize that he or she is not alone with their addiction. For the first time, a patient can experience continual support whether it be withdrawals, periods of depression, or simply needing someone to talk to.

–Overall health program-An important part of the recovery process focuses on well-being, exercise, nutrition and counseling as a comprehensive part of recovery. Relearning how to live a healthy life is as important as ending bad habits.

-Family care programs-Helping an addict heal with family is ideal. In many instances, family life has been damaged by drug addiction and the relationships between parents and siblings must be mended. In some cases, family environments were toxic and may be a catalyst for drug use. These issues need to be addressed by recovery professionals to help prevent relapse once the recovering person leaves residential treatment.

Personal commitment to treatment is critical-Drugs like heroin can make an addict reluctant to seek help. Dedication to recovery is the only way the long-term treatment for any drug will get results. 

Outpatient Treatment for Opioid and Heroin Addiction

Outpatient treatment serves both residential treatment patients moving on to the next steps to recovery, and also acts an alternative form of treatment for some patients who may not require residential treatment. For some patients with a milder form of addiction outpatient treatment allows them to continue with everyday life. They can attend treatment sessions while still contributing to work and school.  Outpatient treatment also offers many versatile, innovative and dynamic treatment options to fit the needs of a recovering addict. 

New Age Therapies for Drug Addiction

Many outpatient programs are implementing more holistic care therapies into their recovery regimen. Based on Eastern practices, these simple therapies help heal mind, body and spirit. These will never replace traditional heroin and opioid addiction treatment. They do however provide a supplemental advantage that can enhance and progress the healing process faster. Incorporating holistic care into existing treatment plans has become common for helping individuals with recovery.

Using techniques like yoga and meditation, therapists can help recovering addicts focus more on their health and personal healing. Acupuncture is another technique that refines personal focus. Combined with other treatments, these non-traditional therapies can help realign a person spiritually and mentally so that recovery is not just about medicine and meetings.

Experiential Therapies

Another approach to outpatient care has been experiential therapies, which remove the recovering addict from counseling sessions and engage them in activities such as art projects, charity projects or physical fitness challenges. The philosophy behind the therapy is to reengage addicts in meaningful and purposeful activities that replace the focus on heroin and opioids.

Faith-Based Therapies

For many with a focus on spirituality, faith-based therapies use a reconnection to God for finding a path to recovery. Faith-based therapies may involve Bible readings and prayer to help a recovering addict see the hopeful light of sobriety.

Relapse Prevention Therapy

With relapse being a constant threat to sobriety, many outpatient programs focus on ways to avoid relapse. Counselors offer exercises and discussions into what may cause relapse and how to avoid those triggers.

Reconnecting through Family Therapy

Because family can be both a cause of addiction and a casualty to addiction, it is vital for addicts to relearn family dynamics within sober living.  For families with instances of addiction in parents or other siblings, family therapy helps those other loved ones find help. In instances where families have been torn apart by an addicted individual now in recovery, family therapy seeks to heal those wounds so that family can be a part of the sober life of the recovering.

Should I choose inpatient or outpatient?

Twelve Step Programs and Aftercare

Long-term recovery for any drug requires goals be within reach. Historically, twelve step programs have been the cornerstone of rehabilitation starting with Alcoholics Anonymous. This versatile approach to aftercare has extended into every type of addiction treatment including opioids and heroin. By establishing milestones that a recovering addict needs to pass, twelve step programs become a personal journey of recovery with tangible results for the recovering addict.  

The Basics of Twelve Step Programs

Implemented by seventy-four percent of rehabilitation and drug treatment centers, twelve step programs continue to outlast many new treatment philosophies.  Most twelve step programs will use a list of objectives which addicts must attain.

Each step must be accomplished before the recovering addict can move on to the next.

  1. Admitting a powerlessness over drugs-they are not in control of the drug, but they are in control of their life
  2. Accept a greater spiritual power great than yourself-abandon self-centeredness
  3. Spirituality not the cravings of drug addiction defines a life
  4. Self-examine fearlessly to discover why drugs were chosen
  5. Admit that you are at fault and have harmed yourself and others
  6. Embrace spiritual healing, not just physical health
  7. Ask God to remove weakness that restrains you from recovery
  8. Go to those you have damaged from addiction and seek to make amends
  9. Amending your damage whenever possible becomes your personal goal
  10. Always humbly seeking forgiveness
  11. Heal yourself through prayer and meditation
  12. Find that spiritual awakening that will transform

What happens after discharge?

Understanding and Accepting Sober Living

For a recovering addicted person, temptations are everywhere.  Sober friends still like to party on the weekends and their activities are filled with risks that can lead a recovering person down the path of relapse. Also, triggers never seem to never let the recovering person go and must be dealt with daily.

Handling Responsibilities of Life and its Stresses

Addiction makes it difficult to do many things others take for granted. Even while recovering, a person is unaccustomed to the pressures that come with family, work and school. The temptation to escape from these stresses can cause a recovering person to relapse into drug use. Recovering individuals need to stay focused on recovery and turn to counselors and the support of others in group sessions to work through any potential relapse.  

When the stresses of everyday life become too great, many recovering addicts choose the option of sober living facilities. The goal of these facilities is to provide a haven for recovering addicts from the demands of life. They can stay at these facilities at night and return to work and school during the day. The centers offer counseling and a network of other recovering addicts who provide moral support.  For recovering addicts seeking help with sobriety, sober living facilities are an ideal oasis in a world of relapse temptation.