Category Archives: Heroin Addiction

FDA Approves Nerve Stimulator for Opioid Withdrawal

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given its approval for a specialized tool that will be used to help US patients addicted to prescription pain medications and get them off opioids.

The newly-approved device delivers electric pulses to the area behind the patient’s ear. This electric pulse triggers a current which travels to the person’s occipital nerves (the ones reaching from the spinal cord to the back of the neck) and cranial nerves. It functions as a PNFS (Percutaneous Nerve Field Stimulator) device system and stimulates the patient’s brain to mask opioid withdrawal symptoms.

This medical device has been named the NSS-2 Bridge (NSS stands for “Neurostimulation System”.) Research shows that when used over a five-day treatment period, the process can be effective. The device is used during the period when an opiate-dependent person is likely to experience the most intense pain, as well as body tremors and sweating, during withdrawal.

Seventy-three patients were involved in the trials to determine the device’s effectiveness. Close to one-third (31 percent) of the participants noticed a reduction in symptoms within half an hour of getting the device. The trial found that 64 of the patients got relief and were ready to move forward to medication-assisted therapy after using the device. This represented a success rate of 88 percent after the five-day trial. However, other applications may include permanent abstinence rather than switching to a maintenance drug.

The FDA has decided to approve the device, even though the results of the study are limited. Further trials will be undertaken to evaluate its effectiveness in various settings.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stated in his reasons for approving the new device that there is a need for finding new ways of helping people who are addicted so that they can achieve sobriety with “medically assisted treatment.” He went on to say that while research is continuing to find better medicines to treat opioid use disorder, medicine also needs to look to devices to help as well.

Finding alternative methods of treating opioid dependency is a major topic of discussion regarding dealing the epidemic our nation faces. In addition to helping people get off these drugs, it is imperative to find more ways to reduce or avoid using these highly addictive substances.

Research Indicates Link Between High Sugar Diet and Opioid Addiction

New research from the laboratory of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Guelph has suggested a possible link between diet and risk of opioid addiction. Specifically, children and adults may be more vulnerable to opioid addiction when high amounts of refined sugars are consumed.

There has been a lot of press recently about the current opioid crisis — and for good reason. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that provisional counts for the number of deaths has increased by 21 percent in the period 2015-2016. Drug overdoses are now claiming lives at double the rate of motor vehicle accidents and firearms combined.

Sugar Activates Reward Centers in Brain

Research studies have revealed that refined sugar activates the reward centers in the brain in the same manner as addictive drugs. Opioid abuse has also been linked to poor diet, including a preference for foods that are high in sugar. Based on this link, researchers had questions about whether there was a connection between a diet with an excessive amount of refined sugar and an increased susceptibility to opioid addiction.

How Research Was Conducted

The research team looked at whether an unlimited level of access to high fructose corn syrup changed laboratory rats’ behavior and responses to oxycodone, a semi-synthetic opioid. High fructose corn syrup, a commonly used food additive in North American processed foods and soft drinks, was selected for this study.

In one study conducted by doctoral student Meenu Minhas, the rats were given unrestricted access to drinking water sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. The sweetened water was removed after about a month. After a few days where the rats didn’t have access to any sweetened water, researchers evaluated the rats’ response to oxycodone.

The researchers found that when the rats consumed high levels of corn syrup, they may experience less rewards from the oxycodone. As a result, the rats may be looking to take higher amounts of the drug.

High Sugar Diet May Contribute to Opioid Addiction

The results indicate that a diet high in sugar may dampen the pleasure that someone may get from taking drugs such as Percocet, Percodan, and OxyContin at lower doses. Since these sedative drugs normally make a user feel more relaxed shortly after being ingested, someone who isn’t getting these results is likely to take a larger dose to get the desired results.

Higher doses of sedatives and painkillers can be dangerous. At high levels, they can interfere with central nervous functioning and slow down breathing, leading to coma or respiratory arrest. When combined with alcohol, their effects multiply since alcohol is also a depressant drug.

This research is another good reason to eat a balanced diet, including lean meats, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. There is a place for sweets, but in moderation.

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How to Recognize an Opioid Overdose

Recognizing an Overdose Early Can Save a Life

It is a sad but true fact that opiate addiction has been steadily on the rise since the early 2000s. This means that the rates of overdose have also been steadily climbing. In fact, the problem has become so widespread that law enforcement and medical professionals are labeling it an epidemic.

The World Health Organization estimates that at least 69,000 people across the globe die from opiate overdoses each year. To help curb this number, we believe it is important that everyone is educated about this class of drugs as well as the symptoms and how to help someone who may be experiencing an overdose. Continue reading to find out how opioids affect a person, how to recognize an opioid overdose, and what steps to take to help save someone’s life. 

What is an Opioid?

Opioids are a category of painkillers that include well-known drugs such as heroin, morphine, OxyContin, Vicodin, methadone and tramadol. Due to the nature of these drugs, it is easy to become dependent on them if a person is not under careful medical supervision.

Most often, these types of drugs are given to people who have serious surgeries, significant injuries or chronic pain, but substances like heroin are most often introduced on the streets, sometimes when a person is unable to get more of their prescribed opioids.

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recognize opioid overdhose

How Do Opioids Affect a Person?

Opiates bind to certain receptors in the brain that help to block pain signals and make the user feel relaxed. When used in a managed setting, they are excellent tools for people who suffer from intense pain.

Issues arise when people take too much at once or begin to use the drugs as a way to escape from real life.

How to Recognize an Opioid Overdose

There are several telltale signs that a person is experiencing an opioid overdose.

Physical signs include:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Bluish tint around fingernails or lips
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Vomiting or painful constipation
  • Inability to be woken from sleep
  • Slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Unusual paleness
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Confusion or drunken behavior

If you encounter someone with these symptoms, it is critical to contact emergency medical services right away because the person’s life is in immediate danger. Opiate overdoses can kill a person quickly, so every moment counts.

How to Help Someone Who Has Overdosed

Though you should immediately call 911 when you recognize an overdose, there are steps you can take to assist the person until help arrives.

If the person is unconscious, roll him or her to one side. This helps prevent people from choking if they vomit while unconscious. If the person is still conscious, do your best to keep the person talking to you and don’t let him or her fall asleep. Because these drugs slow breathing functions, allowing an overdosed person to fall asleep can lead to cessation of breathing.

Don’t leave the person alone if you can help it. A conscious person will be delirious and can easily get into a dangerous situation, and an unconscious person may stop breathing. If left unattended, you won’t be able to administer rescue breathing if necessary.

There is also a treatment for these overdoses called naloxone. This is something that emergency rooms have used for many years to help reverse these types of overdoses, especially heroin-related ones. Due to the dramatic increase in overdose deaths, however, it is now common for emergency medical personnel and even caregivers to carry naloxone with them.

Naloxone comes in nasal spray and injectable forms and can give the overdosed person up to an hour’s respite from overdose symptoms. This does not stop the overdose permanently, so it is still important to call emergency responders to give the person lifesaving medical treatment. In addition, following an overdose, the person will likely require some sort of opioid addiction treatment to ensure that they don’t use heroin or other opioids again once they have recovered from the overdose.

Encountering an opioid overdose can be a frightening experience, but learning how to recognize the signs and give assistance can save lives.

Study Confirms Fentanyl’s Role in Opioid Epidemic

fentanyl opioid epidemicThe fentanyl epidemic in the United States is growing by the day, but because it is a relatively new additive, there is little research to compare the current situation with history. However, a recent study conducted by researchers at Boonshoft School of Medicine Center for Interventions, Treatment, and Addictions Research (CITAR) at Wright State University provides more concrete evidence about the fentanyl problem in this country. This is important because in order to reduce the number of people who ingest this powerful drug, there will need to be evidence of its growth and education about what exactly is fentanyl and how to avoid its use.

Fentanyl is a pharmaceutical drug that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Most commonly, the drug is prescribed to cancer patients, but is also given in hospital settings to combat major pain issues. Regarding abuse, fentanyl has gained popularity with drug dealers because of increased potency when it is combined with heroin. Due to inadequate testing procedures, many experts believe that a greater number of overdose fatalities involved fentanyl than previously reported.

Heroin dealers are now mixing the drug into the supply in order to create a stronger, more intense high and to increase profits. But, because of this new combination, more and more addicts are suffering from fatal overdoses. Other studies have shown that most opioid users are not even aware that they are ingesting fentanyl, and actively try to stay away from the drug in an effort to avoid these types of overdoses. This goes against the suggestion that addicts will seek out fentanyl in order to get a stronger high. Further research has shown that many drug dealers are getting their hands on fentanyl not from legitimate hospitals or doctors, but from illegal labs that have mimicked the recipe.

“The findings of our study highlight the urgent need to include testing for fentanyl and fentanyl analogs as a part of standard toxicology panels for biological specimens used by substance abuse treatment centers, criminal justice institutions and medical providers. Communities also need to assure that sufficient supplies of naloxone doses are provided to first responders and distributed through community overdose prevention programs to mitigate the effects of opioid overdoses,” explained lead author of the study, Raminta Daniulaityte.

While there are still more long-term studies that need to be conducted on the fentanyl problem, this is a step forward for medical professionals who are looking to educate addicts and the public on the dangers and prevalence of the drug.

The Rising Societal Costs of the Heroin Epidemic

Heroin EpidemicSome may think that drug abuse is a problem with only one victim – the user. However, their family members also suffer as well and society feels the effects in the form of dollars. According to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, taxpayers shelled out more than $51 billion in 2015 to go towards the fall out of the heroin problem.

Incarcerations due to heroin abuse and the sale of the drug, treatment costs, treatment of infectious diseases caused by heroin use, cost of treating infants born addicted to heroin, loss of productivity at work and heroin deaths were all variables used to calculate the astronomical number. This record-breaking amount is like pouring salt in the wound of already having the highest number of overdose deaths.

The researchers went even further and determined how much each heroin user costs society. According to the data, a single heroin user can cost taxpayers as much as $50,799 a year. This is due to the above variables as well as the fact that heroin users are more likely to be unproductive, and have large blocks of time where they are not working or contributing to the economy.

Interestingly, patients with different chronic problems cost society much less. For instance, a person who is suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease costs society about $2,567 a year. And a person who has diabetes generally costs about $11,148 a year.

“The downstream effects of heroin use, such as the spread of infectious diseases and increased incarceration due to actions associated with heroin use, compounded by their associated costs, would continue to increase the societal burden of heroin use disorder,” explained Dr. Simon Pickard, one of the lead authors of the study from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Of course the research is not only to illustrate the burden heroin addiction has on society, it also indicates that effective treatment and prevention efforts are perhaps the only way to get this incredibly high number down. By getting more people the help they need, not only are we saving billions of dollars, but most importantly, we’re saving lives.

Fentanyl More Prevalent in Drug Supply than Previously Suspected

fentanylRecent news that opioid-related overdose deaths rose again keeps the alarm sounding that more has to be done to help save lives. One of the biggest contributors to these fatalities has been the addition of fentanyl.

Fentanyl is an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that is usually reserved for treating chronic and extreme pain, such as in cancer patients and after major surgeries. However, drug manufacturers and distributors have discovered that they can add it to other drugs to increase potency while making their supply last longer.

“What we see across the country is the drug cartels moving away from heroin and moving toward these opioids they’re going to produce themselves. People think they’re buying one thing and they’re actually buying another. The stuff they’re selling is so powerful. Some of the stuff we’re seeing produced is 50 times more potent than heroin, as if heroin wasn’t bad enough,” said Van Ingram, executive director of Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

What makes fentanyl-laced heroin so dangerous is that users usually have no idea that they are taking such powerful opioids and so they use the same quantity as they normally would. However, instead of getting the same result, they are ingesting a deadly amount and never make it long enough to receive a dose of naloxone to combat the overdose.

Recently, a safe injection facility in Vancouver, Canada implemented a testing procedure so users could test their drugs for the presence of fentanyl. Their report was shocking, as over 1,000 tests they found an extremely high percentage of the drugs contained fentanyl. This included over 80% of the heroin and even 80% of the methamphetamine and 40% of the cocaine.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has also released reports warning of the increasing presence of fentanyl in street drugs. Since users have no way of knowing what is really in the drugs they’re getting nor how potent they are, there really are only a few viable long-term options to fixing this problem. There has to be a stronger effort to get people into effective treatment programs and there has to be more focus on providing better prevention programs for people of all ages to stop addiction before it starts.

Simple Resource from NIDA Helping Criminal Offenders Avoid Relapse

avoid relapseThe National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has developed a new, low-tech tool to help prevent relapse for at-risk offenders leaving prison. The Drugs and the Brain Wallet Card (DBWC) is a resource for former drug users who were incarcerated and are now returning to society. It can also be used by those in early recovery in a number of other settings as well. Clients who have participated in a residential treatment program are at risk of relapse when they return home as well, and the threat of overdose upon relapse is very high.

Card Serves as a Resource Guide

The DBWC is a 2-inch x 3.5-inch trifold card. It’s small enough to be kept in a pocket, purse, wallet or a cell phone case. Someone who is in the process of transitioning into society after being incarcerated or after being treated in a residential program can carry it with them.

One of the panels of the card has a space where the addict or their counselor can fill in individual triggers leading to temptations to use or drink. These may include specific places where the person used to go to drink or use drugs. Other triggers may include certain sights or sounds, such as the neon lights from a bar or glasses clinking and people or situations that are not good for them.

The space on the card can also be used to fill in local resources that can be accessed if the person feels they need help. These resources may include a counselor, a sponsor or a helpline. They would include any person or agency that a person who feels they are at risk of a relapse could reach out to for help quickly.

Community Re-entry Means Increased Risk for Relapse

Anyone who is re-entering the community is at a higher risk for relapse. They don’t have the structure of residential treatment program or the correctional institution in this early phase of their recovery, and it takes time to adjust.

The DBWC is meant to be used in tandem with ongoing addiction treatment. More than 90,000 cards have been distributed since it was introduced last December. In addition to the drug information and resources on the card, for many people having a physical reminder with them of their commitment to sobriety can be much more effective than an app on their phone or another similar tool.

Elderly Being Targeted for Financial Abuse by Addicted Relatives, Friends

Financial Abuse by Addicted RelativesThe heroin crisis affects more than just the addicts using the drug. The elderly are also becoming victimized by this illegal drug in increasing numbers. Officials say that this segment of the population is being neglected by addicted family members and friends on whom they are dependent for care. The abuse is often financial, meaning that they are being drained of their assets by those they trust.

Number of Cases Involving Adult Protective Services Growing

The situation is particularly acute in Ohio. Sara Junk, the chairperson of the State’s Coalition of Adult Protective Services (APS), told the House finance committee recently that she had never seen the number of referrals to APS reach current levels in all the years she had been in this field. Ms. Junk also said that there was a “dire need” for more workers to investigate and respond to protect situations involving the elderly.

She referred directly to the opioid crisis when speaking about seniors who were trusting their addicted loved ones, “sometimes to their downfall or death.”

While that particular state has provided $10 million in one-time funding to improve protection for the elderly over the last few years, Ms. Junk said that level is not adequate to deal with the number of cases APS is seeing. The State has also provided new training for caseworkers and set consistent standards. It also introduced a helpline reporting number to report instances of abuse.

Financial Abuse Cases Common

The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that one in 10 seniors in the US is abused or neglected annually. The number of seniors who have been financially abused has increased in recent years, mostly due to addicted children and relatives taking advantage of them.

Actual numbers may be higher than reported. Victims may be reluctant to tell police or social workers because they are afraid of reprisals from their relatives. The senior may also fear the loss of their only caregiver if they report the abuse.

Adult children and grandchildren are moving in with elderly parents in order to care for them. If they have good intentions, then this arrangement can work out well.

Drug-dependent adults can use this opportunity to take advantage of the senior by gaining access to the older person’s bank account or having them sign a power of attorney. The addict may even get the senior to sign over assets or change their will to the addict’s advantage.

All of these examples are often overlooked in the larger picture of the impact of substance abuse on society. This is just one of many more reasons why we have to continue to provide evidence-based treatment, intervention and prevention services to help as many people as possible.

If you have a loved one who is addicted, contact us today to find out how we can help.

Heroin, Fentanyl Lead Surge in Overdose Deaths

Although there has been a lot of coverage about the opioid epidemic and the record number of overdoses, until recently there hasn’t been a more detailed look at exactly which substances are tied to the most fatalities. With updated information from the National Center for Health Statistics, it is clear that heroin and fentanyl are the biggest overdose threats currently.

Information from 2010 to 2014 showed a sharp increase in the number of heroin-related deaths, while those resulting from prescription painkillers remained relatively the same over that time period. In 2010, the most overdose deaths were from oxycodone, which amounted to 5,200 that year, while there were about 3,000 from heroin. Just four years later heroin led the way with over 11,000 deaths. It accounted for nearly a quarter of all overdose fatalities.

Researchers were also interested in the fact that many of the overdose deaths involved more than one drug. Nearly half of all overdoses included multiple drugs being taken. One of the deadliest additives has been fentanyl, as it is incredibly potent and highly dangerous. Another important aspect of the multiple substance issue is that there are many accidental deaths caused by mixing prescription drugs, such as a painkiller and sedative while drinking alcohol.

While current drug policies are changing to focus more on treatment and rehabilitation, it is likely that more still needs to be done in order to reverse the upward trend of heroin overdose deaths in this country. The nation has been making much more of an effort over the past year, and we will have to wait to see statistics on whether that has been working. Either way, much more can and should be done to help save lives.

If you have a loved one struggling with an addiction to heroin or any other combination of drugs, contact Desert Cove today to find out more about successful treatment options.

Heroin Affecting Newborns in Record Numbers

One of the most dangerous things about heroin is that it can impede a mother’s instinct to protect her child. This is most evident in the number of children being born addicted to heroin. This addiction occurs when mothers continue to use the drug while pregnant, causing their babies to be born dependent on the opiate, and needing to go through excruciating withdrawal symptoms in their first days of life. The number of infants born addicted to opiates continues to rise, as the heroin epidemic rages on in rural and urban communities.

While this problem is occurring throughout the country, it appears that rural areas are seeing a higher percentage of these tragedies than in cities. This may be because there is less access to quality treatment in rural areas, or drug education is not as evolved as it is in the cities. According to a University of Michigan study, heroin addicted babies increased four times in cities, while rural areas reported an increase of seven times. The results were published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

One reason why it is so difficult for expectant mothers to cease heroin use when they find out they are pregnant is because of the painful withdrawal symptoms they have to go through. Heroin addicts who stop using the drug experience insomnia, body aches, vomiting, paranoia, anxiety, depression, flu-like symptoms and intense cravings. These symptoms are so extreme that many in the medical profession strongly advocate for medical assistance when it comes to withdrawing from heroin. And while these are extreme symptoms for an adult, they are even more intense for an infant. Medical staff has to monitor the child constantly and watch as the baby goes through a withdrawal that most adults avoid at all costs.

“In the worst-case scenario, some of these babies die, and there’s a higher rate of mortality in this population. Later in life, there may possibly be issues with attention, but more research is really needed to understand the long-term effects,” explained Dr. Nicole Villapiano of University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital. Most babies who are born addicted to heroin exhibit increased irritability, tremors, inability or lack of desire to consume food, seizures and respiratory distress.

However, there are very few treatments approved for opiate-addicted mothers because of the potential damage caused to the unborn child during withdrawal. Unfortunately, the most common treatment includes putting the mothers on buprenorphine or methadone – both of which are synthetic opioids and can still cause the baby to have to go through agony after birth.

Researchers hope that this study will not only educate people on the dangers of using heroin while pregnant, but will also shed a light on the necessity of increasing education and prevention efforts in rural areas of the country. It also expresses a need for better treatment methods for mothers so that their newborns do not have to go through withdrawal.