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opiates and alcohol

Why Opiates and Alcohol are Such a Deadly Combination for Arizona Drug Users

Overdosing From Combining Opiates and Alcohol Is a Real Risk 

Media reports frequently focus on cases of opiate use, with Governor Doug Ducey even declaring a state of emergency due to the sharp rise in opioid overdose among Arizona drug users. However, little attention was given to the dangers of mixing opiates and alcohol until news reports emerged that Cory Monteith’s death was caused by combined drug intoxication from champagne and heroin which shed light on the deadly drug combination of opiates and alcohol. Although under-reported, over 70 percent of opiate-related deaths involve the use of another substance, and alcohol is present in more than 50 percent of opiate fatalities. 

Alcohol Is a Depressant 

Alcohol‘s ability to pass the blood-brain barrier allows it direct access to the GABA receptors and neurotransmitters of the central nervous system. These neurotransmitters are responsible for sending messages from the brain to every part of the body, including the limbs, muscles and organs. Alcohol blocks the nerve receptors’ messages, slowing down the central nervous system. As a result, bodily functions are altered. Changes in the body from alcohol consumption are felt and observed through a number of signs and symptoms:

  • Altered speech
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dulled senses
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Impaired hearing
  • Mental confusion
  • Memory lapses
  • Poor coordination
  • Slow reaction times

Drugs That Are Classified As Opiates

Derived from the opium of poppy plants, opiates are a Schedule II substance that is prescribed to physical pain. When used as intended, opiates bind to the body’s opioid receptors, blocking pain signals. Opiates and opioids are two terms that are often used interchangeably. Opioid was a term that once was only used to describe synthetic opioids. However, the term opioid is now used to describe all four categories of opiates, which are the endogenous opioids made by the human body, opium alkaloids like codeine and morphine, semi-synthetic opioids such as oxycodone and heroin and fully synthetic opioids like methadone. 

Opiates Are Also a Depressant 

The human body contains naturally occurring opioid-like neurotransmitters and opioid receptors. While these organic substances send signals that block pain, the body does not make enough of its own opioids to stop severe pain or overdose itself. When someone takes opiate drugs, they easily bind to these receptors because they are similar in chemical structure to the body’s natural opioid neurotransmitters. However, opiate drugs do not act the same way as opioid neurotransmitters, which causes the transmission of abnormal messages throughout the body. Heroin’s impact on the body is dependent on a whole host of factors. These factors include the user’s current state of health, their weight, whether they are male or female. How the person takes opiates, how much opiates he or she takes, how long they have engaged in opiate use, the simultaneous consumption of other drugs or alcohol and their mental health also play a role on how heroin will affect the body. In terms of how opiate drugs interfere with these signals produces a variety of effects: 

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Poor decision making
  • Sedation
  • Shallow breathing

The Effects of Combining Opiates and Alcohol

Since opiates and alcohol are both considered to be depressants, they can be a deadly drug combination when taken together. When someone takes an opiate and drinks alcohol, the opiate will increase the body’s absorption rate of the alcohol, increasing the likelihood of alcohol poisoning. Additionally, this mixture slows down brain functioning and subsequently, the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems. Signs and symptoms of an opiate-alcohol overdose include drowsiness, dizziness and slowed heart rate and breathing rate. Their heart can even stop beating. The longer someone engages in this type of polydrug use, they increase their chances of a fatal overdose

Why Arizona Drug Users Are Taking Opiate-Alcohol Cocktails

With such a high risk of death from consuming opiates and alcohol, it is surprising that the number of fatalities is so high. Often, people turn to this type of substance use to relax as opiates’ ability to cause the feeling of euphoria lasts longer when this drug is combined with alcohol. Other people choose to take both of these substances at the same time as an escape because the combo either makes them fall asleep for a long period of time or gives them a more intense high than taking opiates alone. 

This Dangerous Trend Is Running Rampant Among Youth

The results of 2012 study by McCabe and other researchers indicate that a significant portion of young people are mixing opiates with other substances, including other opiates. Approximately 1 of 8 teenagers in high school have used opiates with for recreational purposes, and 70 percent of these teens are combining opiates with one or more substances. Although they are using opiates in conjunction with amphetamines, tranquilizers, marijuana and cocaine, 52.1 percent of teenagers from this study are also combining opiates with alcohol. 

More People Are Turning to Heroin 

Due to the alarming rate of prescription opioid abuse, authorities in Arizona and the rest of the country are taking a hardline approach to curbing the distribution of these medications. Therefore, people who are dependent or addicted to opiates are using heroin. Estimates by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that almost 700,000 people in America are using heroin. Approximately 170,000 people tried heroin for the first time in 2012. Looking at the rates from the 1960s to the 1970s when heroin reached its height of popularity, current heroin-use rates are on reaching the same level. Heroin users state that street heroin is easier to access that legitimate prescriptions and cheaper to buy than illicit prescription painkillers. 

Emergency Departments Have Contributed to Increase In Opiate Use

Researchers from the George Washington University School of Medicine recently found that the the number of emergency room visits resulting in a prescription for painkiller rose nearly 50 percent between 2001 and 2010. This has been one of the many contributing factors to the overall rise in prescription drug abuse throughout the country.

Published in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine, the results showed that the total number of such ER visits went from 21 percent up to 31 percent during the decade. Part of those statistics include the increase of Schedule II narcotics that nearly doubled, from 7.6% to 14.5%.

Despite these hefty increases, the percentage of patients reporting for painful conditions only increased by a modest 4%. Part of the reason for the sharp rise in narcotic painkillers was believed to involve a concern for greater patient satisfaction, indicating that fulfilling their wishes may have taken a front seat to doing what’s best for their conditions in some cases.

Dr. Ryan Stanton, spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), told HealthDay that, “In many cases, naproxen, Tylenol (acetaminophen) and ibuprofen are the best choices.”

Unfortunately these statistics are a reflection of the overall scene when it comes to trying to treat pain, keep patients satisfied and find quick fixes when dealing with a large volume of patients. Hopefully more treatments can be used that aren’t as potentially addictive, yet still provide relief to those who are in need. Either way, our country must continue to find ways to cut back our overwhelming dependency on painkillers.

More Than a Quarter Million People Dependent on Methadone Daily

methadonepillsThe National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS) is a routinely updated gathering of information on various types of addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs throughout the country. It represents a snapshot of the field on a single day, rather than a compilation of a year’s worth of statistics.

One of the categories that it surveys includes Opioid Treatment Programs, which provide medication-assisted therapy to treat opiate addictions. The replacement drugs given in these programs are usually either methadone or buprenorphine. On March 31, 2011 there were over 268,000 people taking methadone and 3,300 taking buprenorpine (which doesn’t include those taking the drug prescribed from other treatment facilities or primary care physicians).

Aside from the sheer number of people taking methadone each day, and equally alarming statistic for some is the amount of the drug they are taking per day. The survey showed that 18 percent of methadone patients are taking 120 milligrams or more, compared to only 10 percent of them taking 40 milligrams or less.

Methadone itself is an opioid agonist that has a high level of toxicity. Many users say that withdrawing from methadone is much more difficult than coming down from heroin or other opiates. This, as well as building up a tolerance, is one of the reasons why so many methadone users continue to increase their dosage amounts. The scariest part is that according to the CDC, methadone accounts for more than 5,000 overdose deaths each year.

At Desert Cove Recovery, we strive to help people become completely free from opiates. If you have a loved one dependent on drugs such as heroin or prescription painkillers, contact us today to compare our rehabilitation center with your other options before choosing any kind of opioid replacement therapy maintenance program.