Category Archives: Heroin Addiction

New Research Examines at Link Between DNA and Opioid Addiction

Bentley University and Gravity Diagnostics have entered into a partnership to conduct research into whether a person’s DNA can predict susceptibility to opioid addiction. The results of this work could give doctors prescribing pain medication an indication of how likely a patient is to become addicted. It could also predict how well patients who already have an opioid addiction problem will respond to specific treatments.

From Prescription Opioid Use to Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), between 21-29 percent of chronic pain patients don’t take their medications properly and more than 115 people lose their lives due to opioid overdose every day. The majority (80 percent) of heroin users began their slide toward this illicit drug by misusing prescription opioid pain relievers.

Researchers will examine individuals’ DNA to discover how susceptible this factor makes them to becoming opioid-dependent. For people who have already become addicted to opioids, the scientists will examine their DNA to determine whether they are likely to respond well to both opioid and non-opioid treatments.

The results of this work could have a significant influence on doctors’ decisions about whether to prescribe opioid to specific patients. When a physician does make the choice to prescribe an opioid pain medication, a patient’s DNA profile may influence how much of the medication he is prescribed. The research results can also influence how doctors treat patients with a history of addiction.

Partnership Includes Multiple Departments at Bentley

The partnership, which will last three years, will include faculty from several departments at Bentley: Natural and Applied Sciences, Sociology and Economics. A public health geneticist will also be on the team to provide assistance with research. Bentley students will enter and process data, and write computer scripts.

Gravity Diagnostics, a Northern Kentucky-based laboratory, is providing a $360,000.00 grant to finance the work. Bentley was selected as a research partner because, “[it is] doing successful research that is relevant to the world today.”

Data Analytics First Phase in Research

In the initial phase of the research, data analytics will be used to pinpoint the genetic features that are the best predictors for addiction and responses to treatment. Once they have been identified, these features and predictions will be tested by comparing them to DNA samples taken from active opioid addicts and those in recovery.

The goal is to discover why some people become addicted to substances quickly, while others can use the same drug and seem to be resistant to physical addiction for some time.

Brain Cell Changes Linked to Opiate Addiction, Narcolepsy

UCLA researchers have made two discoveries that provide new information on chemical messengers in the brain regulating addiction and sleep. One of the new findings involves the brain of people living with a heroin addiction and the other involves the brain of drowsy mice.

In 2000, scientists at the University of California Los Angeles found that narcolepsy (a sleep disorder whose symptoms include excessive sleepiness, sleep attacks, hallucinations and loss of muscle control) is caused by loss of approximately 90 percent of the brain cells that contain the neurotransmitter hypocretin. This chemical messenger is normally present in 80,000 brain cells.

Narcolepsy and Heroin Addiction

Narcolepsy is not a common disorder, affecting about one in 2,000-3,000 people. It can go undiagnosed for a number of years, with the patient usually starting to experience symptoms in childhood or adolescence.

The results of a new study have revealed that heroin addicts have 54 percent more hypocretin-secreting neurons that non-addicts, on average. Tests performed on mice have confirmed that opiate use is responsible for this increase. The jump in hypocretin cells lasted for up to four weeks after morphine treatment stopped, which is well after the morphine would have left the mice’s bodies.

The researchers thought morphine, which is the active ingredient in heroin, may restore the hypocretin-producing neurons which are missing in narcolepsy patients. To put this idea to the test, they gave narcoleptic mice morphine. The researchers found that morphine increased the number of hypocretin-producing cells, and the symptoms of narcolepsy disappeared.

Brain Neurotransmitter May Contribute to Opioid Cravings

The mice continued to produce hypocretin after they were taken off morphine. To the researchers, this observation led to a theory that humans may continue producing hypocretin after going through heroin detox (detoxification). The researchers thought the increase in hypocretin levels may be linked to opiate cravings and that bringing them close to “normal” levels might potentially reverse narcolepsy symptoms in humans.

More work will be needed with mice before this treatment approach can be recommended for human patients. Researchers would like to discover whether reducing the number of “excess” hypocretin cells could have a role in relieving withdrawal symptoms for long-term opiate users and preventing relapse once they are clean.

insurance coverage for addiction treatment

Increase Insurance Coverage for Addiction to Lower Risk of Opioid Deaths

Increase Insurance Coverage for Addiction to Lower Risk of Opioid Deaths

Patients who are living with an opioid addiction and want to get help shouldn’t be denied access to treatment by their health insurance providers. This statement was one of the new policy recommendations co-authored by Professor Claudio Nigg, from the Office of Public Health Studies, University of Hawaii at Mānoa.

Lack of Full Coverage for Addiction Treatment a Barrier

The most likely reason people who want, but don’t get, addiction treatment is that government and private insurance policies don’t cover the cost of getting help, according to a statement posted June 27, 2018, on the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s website.

Professor Nigg explained, “To fight the opioid addiction epidemic that is ravaging the US today, policymakers need to increase Medicaid funding for addiction treatment and declare the opioid epidemic to be a national emergency, and not just a public health emergency.”

On a typical day in the United States, 3,900 people start taking a prescription opioid medication for non-medical reasons. Dozens of people die each day from an opioid overdose. In 2016, 77 people died from an opioid overdose in Hawaii, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Medication-Based Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Research has shown that medication-based treatment (MAT) is one approach for clients living with opioid addiction. It includes two components.

First, clients take medication to decrease cravings for drugs (such as oxycodone, morphine and heroin). They also attend behavioral modification therapy (“talk therapy”), which helps them change their thinking and actions.

Funding for Counseling Needed Along with Medications

Professor Nigg points out that while many insurance programs will pay for the medication, getting funding for counseling is much more difficult. He points out that people need the talk therapy, not just the medications to be treated properly for their addiction.

Nigg is an expert in the behavioral health science field. He has studied theories of behavioral change throughout his career and has conducted research on the motivations for people to take part in healthier living strategies.

For more information on opioid addiction treatment, and to find out if you have insurance coverage for addiction treatment, give us a call today.

Generic Medications for Opioid Dependence

FDA Approves Two Generic Medications for Opioid Dependence Treatment

FDA Approves Two Generic Medications for Opioid Dependence Treatment

Mylan Technologies Inc. and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories SA have received the go-ahead to market buprenorphine and naloxone sublingual film. These products will be made available to patients as generic versions of Suboxone, a medication used to treat opioid dependence.

Buprenorphine is used to reduce the severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms. Naloxone blocks their effects and reverses the same. The two medications can be used as part of an overall treatment program that includes counseling and prescription monitoring.

More Help Available for Opiate Addiction

Generic buprenorphine and naloxone sublingual film will be available in several dosage levels. These medications can only be prescribed by medical professionals certified by the Drug Addiction Treatment Act.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the FDA Commissioner, stated that the FDA is taking steps to “advance the development of improved treatments for opioid use disorder” and to ensure that these medications are available to patients who need them. He also said that includes “promoting the development of better drugs, and also facilitating market entry of generic versions of approved drugs to help ensure broader access.”

About Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT) is a treatment option that uses FDA-approved medications (buprenorphine, methadone or naltrexone) along with counseling and other types of behavioral therapies, to treat opioid addiction. This form of treatment reduces the severity of withdrawal symptoms. The medications used for MAT don’t give participants the “high” or feeling of ecstasy normally associated with opioid abuse, although some of these medications can wind up being abused as well, so they alone are not a permanent solution.

At an appropriate therapeutic dose for a patient, buprenorphine is also supposed to reduce the pleasurable effects he would experience if he took other opioids. This effect would make continued use of opioids less attractive, therefore much less likely.

Patients who are receiving MAT for opioid use disorder benefit from this type of treatment in another way as well: they cut their risk of dying by 50 percent, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

clinical opiate withdrawal scale

What is the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale?

What is the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale?

Everyone’s experience of addiction is different. Likewise, everyone’s path toward recovery is unique. When it comes to overcoming an addiction to opiates, seeking outside help is a must. For that help to be effective, a treatment plan that is tailored to suit the needs of the individual patient is essential. Rehab facilities have many tools at their disposal, and one of the best ones for assessing a patient’s opiate withdrawal symptoms and experiences is something called the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale. Read on to learn more about this useful tool and how it is used to help people overcome serious addictions.

The Basics

Often abbreviated simply as COWS, the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale is an 11-point scale that is used to rate common symptoms and signs of opiate withdrawal. Unlike the Subjective Opiate Withdrawal Scale, or SOWS, which is a self-reporting tool, it is designed to be administered by a clinician. Each of the 11 listed symptoms are given a score on a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 representing the most severe manifestation of the symptom in question. The patient’s score is then tallied and used to determine a tailored opioid withdrawal treatment plan.

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Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale

Which Signs and Symptoms are Assessed on the Scale?

Inpatient and outpatient treatment centers alike have numerous tools at their disposal for helping patients to withdraw safely from opiates. In particular, medications like buprenorphine and suboxone are often prescribed to help manage the most severe and uncomfortable symptoms. In turn, patients are less likely to relapse due to severe discomfort. However, to be effective, these medications must be administered at strategic points in the withdrawal process. The COWS scale is the primary tool that clinicians use to determine not only which medications should be used but when they should be administered.

The 11 signs and symptoms that are assessed on the COWS scale are:

1. Resting pulse rate – The patient’s pulse is monitored regularly. A resting pulse of 80 or below is given a score of zero while a resting pulse of 120 or higher is given a score of five.

2. Gastrointestinal upset – Symptoms may range from none to multiple episodes of vomiting and diarrhea.

3. Sweating – This symptom may not be present at all. On the other end, sweat may be streaming from the face or body.

4. Tremors – Tremors may not be present, or they may be severe enough to interfere with a patient’s ability to speak or move.

5. Restlessness – On the COWS scale, this symptom may not be present at all. In the worst case, the patient may be unable to sit still for more than a few seconds at a time.

6. Yawning – No yawning may be happening at all, or it may be happening as frequently as several times per minute.

7. Pupil size – Pupils may be pin-sized when exposed to light, or they may be extremely dilated on the more severe end of the scale.

8. Irritability and anxiety – Someone experiencing opioid withdrawals may show no sign of anxiety or irritability at all, or they may be so anxious or irritable that they struggle to participate in the assessment.

9. Bone and joint aches – This symptom can range from very mild to so severe that the patient is constantly rubbing their joints and unable to sit still.

10. Gooseflesh skin – Skin may be smooth on one end of the scale or look like gooseflesh on the other.

11. Teary eyes and runny nose – These symptoms may be missing entirely, or the eyes and nose may run constantly on the more severe end of the scale.

Benefits of the COWS Scale

After assessing the patient for each of the 11 symptoms, their score is tallied to determine how severe their withdrawal is. A score of 5 to 12 represents mild withdrawal while a score of 36 or higher represents severe withdrawal. Clinicians may use other scales in conjunction with COWS to gain an even clearer understanding of a patient’s current state; the Buprenorphine Administration Scale, for example, is often used in conjunction with COWS to determine effective doses of that medication as well as when to administer it. With many medications, introducing them too early can have the opposite effect, which can lead to a longer and more difficult withdrawal period.

Are You Looking for Opiate Addiction Treatment?

If you are coping with an addiction to opiates and are ready to regain your freedom from substance abuse, it’s important to understand that help is absolutely vital—and it is readily available. Detoxing from the drug is the first step, and the right inpatient or outpatient treatment program will use the COWS scale or other proven tools to determine the best individualized plan for you. Once detoxing is over, you will be free to begin the real work of addiction recovery and to take the first steps toward a lifetime of sober living.

Bacterial Infection Hidden Epidemic, Taking Lives in Opioid Crisis

The current opioid crisis is responsible for producing a new epidemic among teens and young adults. It’s a potentially-fatal bacterial heart infection called endocarditis.

This condition is most commonly seen in older adults. Now doctors are seeing it in much younger patients more often due to opioid drug use.

What is Endocarditis and How is is Related to Opioid Abuse?

Endocarditis is a bacterial infection of the inner lining of the heart chamber and its valves. The condition occurs when bacteria are enter the body, then are spread through the bloodstream until they attach themselves to damaged parts of the heart. It is spreading through the use of shared needles by IV drug drug users.

The clump of bacteria grows over time, and the infection can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated, according to Dr. Sarah Wakeman, the Medical Director of the Substance Use Disorder Initiative and the Addiction Consult Team at Massachusetts General Hospital.

How Infection is Spread

In a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital setting, a health care worker will swab a patient’s skin with a disinfectant to kill bacteria before administering an injection. The purpose of this step is to avoid pushing bacteria from the skin into the body with the needle. Opioid drug users who are using needles may not be taking this step, which has led to the increase in endocarditis cases.

Endocarditis Treatment Not Enough for Opioid Use Disorder Patients

Endocarditis can be treated using intravenous antibiotics over a long time. If the damage to the heart valves is severe, surgery may be recommended to replace them.

If the patient is also injecting opioids, such as heroin, treating the infection is only treating half of the problem. The opioid use disorder is still present, and the patient will go right back to using once if he doesn’t get appropriate help for the addiction.

According to a 2016 Tufts University study, hospital admissions for endocarditis due to injectable drug use increased from 3,578 in 2000 to 8,530 in 2013. The study also found that a large number of these cases involved young people aged 15-24.

States Looking to Rewrite Drug Laws with Focus on Addiction Treatment

Legislators and other policy makers throughout the country continue their efforts to combat the drug epidemic in America, especially with regards to heroin and other opiates. For example, lawmakers in Washington are seeking to change the way the Evergreen State approaches treating opioid addiction. House Bill 2489 and its counterpart in the Senate would make significant changes to the state law to make medication-assisted therapy the treatment of choice for opioid addiction, according to reports.

Treatments for Opioid Dependency

Medication-assisted therapy is one type of treatment where people dependent on the drugs are prescribed substitute medications such as buprenorphine or methadone to keep withdrawal symptoms under control while providing supportive counseling and other services.

Many studies have shown that the incorporation of such medication can be beneficial, although most treatment specialists still recommend only short-term usage, as continuing to take the drugs for years results in its own dependency. However, used for stabilization and then a tapering process bolstered by intensive treatment can improve early relapse rates for many users.

Offering Many Forms of Treatment

The deputy chief medical officer for the Washington Health Care Authority, Charissa Fotinos, pointed out that updating the state treatment guidelines would help to put across the message that addiction is not a moral failing on the part of those affected. It may not encourage more people to seek help, but it will change the tone of the conversation for those who do reach out for assistance.

Opioid users themselves stated in a survey they were very interested in medications to help them reduce their drug use. They are interested in obtaining the most effective treatment for their addiction, according to the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, which conducted the survey of needle exchange clients.

The bill will change the current language, and it includes directions to expand access to treatment options across the state. Many of these expanded treatment provisions hinge on funding that will be provided in Governor Jay Inslee’s new budget.

The new bill and the funding would work together to create a “hub and spoke” treatment network in areas of Washington. Six pilot sites are operating in the western part of the state with federal funding received last fall.

Under this treatment model, clients are referred to a central hub to get started on their treatment. Once they are stabilized, they can get ongoing care, including counseling and medication, from a mobile provider or a clinic located closer to their home.

Buprenorphine for Addiction Treatment

States Expanding Access to Buprenorphine for Addiction Treatment

Buprenorphine for Addiction TreatmentThere continues to be a high demand for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction. To date, however, states like Ohio only haveabout two percent of doctors that have completed the training necessary to prescribe or dispense buprenorphine. This is the main ingredient in the addiction treatment drug Suboxone, and other similar medications.

Plan to Double Healthcare Professionals Providing Buprenorphine

The state is planning to double the number of healthcare professionals certified to provide Suboxone (and other addiction treatment medications) to patients over the next 18 months. The federal government has provided $26 million in grant funding under the 21st Century Cares Act so that more healthcare providers can get training. Under existing law, doctors, as well as nurse practitioners and physician assistants (PAs) can dispense buprenorphine.

Waiver to Treat Patients for Opioid Addiction

Under the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 (Data 2000), doctors can apply for a waiver allowing them to treat patients with buprenorphine in their office, clinic, a community hospital or “any other setting where they are qualified to practice.” To qualify for a physician waiver, a doctor must be:

• Licensed under state law
• Registered with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) to dispense controlled substances
• Agree to treat a maximum of 30 MAT patients during the first year
• Qualify to treat MAT patients, either by training or by professional certification

A doctor who has completed at least eight hours of classroom training focused on treating and managing patients with opioid use disorders can qualify for a waiver. The new training program for medical professionals is 1.5 days of classroom instruction, and participants are expected to continue their education through online courses and seminars.

Medication-Assisted Treatment Growing in the United States

The National Institutes of Health Studies says that MAT is a very effective method for treating opioid addiction. Studies conducted in 2014 revealed improved long-term recovery rates over traditional treatment methods, though it often takes finding the perfect balance for each individual as to how long they stay on the medication. Ideally, they would work toward being off of it in 2 years or less, and many people seek to use Suboxone for short-term tapering to simply ease opiate withdrawal symptoms.

Opioids for ER Patients

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers as Effective as Opioids for ER Patients

For a number of patients, their first introduction to opioid pain medications occurs when they seek treatment in an Emergency Room (ER). Since doctors have more than one option for treating pain, what would happen if they offered over-the-counter pain medications instead of these strong, potentially addictive drugs instead?

A new study looked at what would happen if doctors took this approach to patients who visited the ER for treatment of sprains and broken bones. The results found that pain relievers sold under brand names as Tylenol and Motrin were as effective as opioids for treating severe pain.

Treating Acute Pain Without Opioids

The study involved 411 adult patients who sought treatment in two Emergency Rooms in New York City. All of them received ibuprofen (the main ingredient in Motrin) and acetaminophen (the main ingredient in Tylenol) or one of three opioid drugs: codeine, oxycodone or hydrocodone. All patients received standard doses, and none were told which medication was being administered.

The patients rated their pain levels on a score of 1-10 before being given their pain medication and again two hours later. The researchers found that for an average patient, the pain levels dropped from a 9/10 to approximately 5/10. There was little difference reported between the two groups.

Dr. Andrew Chang, Professor of Emergency Room Medicine at Albany Medical College in New York State, explained that ibuprofen and acetaminophen affect different pain receptors in the body. He went on to say that using them together may be especially effective.

These results dispute the standard ER practice used for treating acute pain. It could lead to changes that could help prevent new patients from being given opioids, which have such a high potential for abuse.

Although the study didn’t continue to follow the patients after they left the hospital, it is likely that the pain relief continued while taking the OTC remedies.

Study Has Potential to Help Opioid Crisis

Over two million people in the US are addicted to prescription painkillers or heroin. According to experts, changes in how ER doctors prescribe drugs could potentially put a dent in the current opioid crisis and help save lives.

Long-term opioid use often starts after patients are introduced to the drugs in an acute pain treatment situation. Emergency Rooms have given them to patients more often in recent years, although more states have limited the number of pills that can be given out. According to previous studies, approximately one-third of ER patients received an opioid painkiller during their visit. Approximately 20 percent of ER patients leave the hospital with a prescription for an opioid pain medication.

opioid epidemic

Addiction Expert Explains Three Main Groups of Opioid Epidemic

For the average person reading news stories or listening to the situation being discussed on the air, it seems as though the situation is mainly about young people who have moved from a prescription opioid dependency to a heroin addiction and that fentanyl is causing many of the overdose deaths. Popular news stories imply that efforts to stop people from becoming addicted to prescription drugs have not helped, but only made the issue worse.

This is one part of the opioid crisis but it isn’t the full story. As Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University Heller School for Social Policy and Management pointed out, there are three opioid epidemics impacting North America.

The Three Opioid Epidemics in North America

1. Longtime Addicts

This, according to Kolodny, is the smallest group. Most of them are between the ages of 50-70 and started using heroin in the 1970s and 1980s. They lost a number of their friends to addiction. Fentanyl is responsible for killing off people in this group, due to the heroin supply being “laced” with this powerful pain reliever.

2. Young Rural and Suburban Users

The second group is the middle one, and is between 20-40 years of age. This is the group that gets most of the press coverage. They are people who are being found dead of an overdose, often with needles still in stuck in their arm.

In many instances, the road to addiction starts out with prescription opioids. The person may have started taking medications prescribed for someone else. They may have originally been prescribed the pain medication, but started using it more often than as directed. When their supply ran out, they turned to buying pills on the street.

At some point the cravings for pills increased. The cost was high and heroin could satisfy the cravings at a cheaper price. Switching from pills to heroin wasn’t anything new, according to Kolodny. Again, when dealers started adding fentanyl to their heroin supply around 2011 because it was a cheap filler, the number of overdose victims skyrocketed.

3. Middle-Aged and Senior Adults

The largest group, which has remained mostly under the popular press’ radar, is made up of people in their mid-40s through to their 80s. Their deaths due to opioid abuse are under-reported.

People in this age group may have been taking pain medications prescribed by their primary care doctors for several years. When they pass away from heart disease or another cause, no one wants to think of their long-term opioid use as being a contributing factor. Families also don’t think to ask whether their loved one may not have been using their opioid medication appropriately, whether there was an interaction with other medications (over the counter or herbal supplements included). They wouldn’t ask whether alcohol use and opioids may have been an issue.

The fact there are three sub-groups among this epidemic is why the number of overdose deaths have continued to rise. This isn’t a typical substance abuse problem, as the number of lives lost have actually reduced the average life expectancy in America.

To solve this problem Kolodny suggests investing money in building a new treatment system at an estimated cost of $60 billion. Although there are a ton of addiction programs doing great things, the system as a whole isn’t slowing the number of deaths, so more must be done.