Every day in the United States, 128 people die after overdosing on opioids. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, overdose rates in San Diego County have increased, with approximately three people dying every day due to opioid overdose.
This public health crisis affects all of us. At The Bridges of San Diego, an intensive outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center in La Mesa, we continue to advocate for, educate, and treat those working hard to overcome their addiction.
Opioids are a specific class of prescription drugs used to treat moderate to severe pain. Commonly prescribed after a severe injury or after surgery, opioids are incredibly useful in pain reduction. Because they mimic the naturally occurring opiates that exist in our brains, exposure to opiate-based drugs creates feelings of euphoria, happiness, relaxation, and an overall reduction in physical pain. It is for this reason that opioids are so useful and addictive.
Common opioid prescriptions include Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Morphine, and Methadone. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever. Usually prescribed to advanced cancer patients, Fentanyl is many more times more powerful than other prescription opioids. Illegally made Fentanyl is used to enhance other drugs like Heroin. This unwelcome addition makes Heroin increasingly addictive and deadly.
While most users take opioids in pill form, some crush pills into powder, melt into a liquid and then inject using a syringe.
Addiction Can Happen To Anyone
Anyone prescribed (or using) opioids can become addicted. Addiction can happen slowly and over time. Once you’ve been prescribed the opioid medication and begin taking it, you may find your tolerance increases, and you require more medication to achieve the same pain-relieving effect. According to the CDC, as many as one in four patients requiring long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggle with addiction.
If your doctor prescribes opioids to you or a family member, take a moment to discuss alternatives. Several non-opioid medications effectively reduce pain. After consulting with your healthcare provider, these alternatives can be appropriate instead of an opioid prescription.
Side Effects of Opioids
There are many side effects you can watch for, even if the prescription is taken as recommended by a doctor. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these side effects, call your doctor to discuss appropriate next steps:
Tolerance – To achieve consistent levels of pain relief, you need more medicine
Physical dependence – when you stop taking the medication, withdrawals occur:
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
Increased sensitivity to pain
Vomiting, nausea, dry mouth
Sleepiness and dizziness
Low levels of testosterone
Itching and sweating
If you begin to notice these behaviors, or any combination of these behaviors in yourself or a loved one with an opioid prescription, call your doctor to discuss your concerns:
Loss of interest in once favorite activities or hobbies
Spending time alone, avoiding family and friends
A decrease in personal hygiene
Being nervous, cranky, or anxious
Being tired, sad, or wanting to sleep more than usual
Eating more or less than usual
Experiencing financial hardship
Long-term exposure to opioids can permanently alter a person’s brain chemistry and affect a person for their entire life. Long term side effects after opioid addiction can include respiratory failure, liver failure, kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke.
It is imperative that for those with a dependency on opioid-based compounds, appropriate professional treatment in a rehab setting is an essential first step in the recovery process.
In Case of Overdose
People who are overdosing experience these symptoms in common: slow, shallow breathing, inability to talk, inability to remain conscious, blue skin color, and dark-colored lips.
If you believe someone may be overdosing, call 911. If you have Naloxone, administer it according to package instructions.
Then, lightly tap, shake, and shout at the person to get a response. If you cannot get the person to respond, rub your knuckles on the person’s breastbone. Do what you can to keep the person awake.
While waiting for first responders, pay attention to the person’s symptoms. If their skin color is blue and they have dark-colored lips, perform mouth-to-mouth. If the person doesn’t have a pulse or is not breathing, perform CPR.
Stay with the person until first responders occur.
Protecting Yourself and Others
If you are taking prescription opioids, you are not the only person in danger of addiction. Other members of your household, including children, are vulnerable. Here are some ways to protect those you care about:
Store opioids in a safe, secure place.
Don’t leave prescription bottles out on top of countertops.
Do not share prescriptions.
Your doctor prescribed your medication for you and no one else. More than half the people who misuse prescription opioids get them from a friend or relative.
Don’t throw unused opioids in the trash.
Improper disposal of prescriptions increases the likelihood someone else will find them. If you have unused medications, check with your pharmacy or primary-care clinic about drop-off boxes or sponsored “Turn-In Days.” Check with your local recycling program provider to ask about approved drop-off locations in your community, like police stations. As a last resort, destroy the medication by mixing it with dirt, cat litter, or coffee grounds before throwing it in the garbage.
Help is Available
At The Bridges of San Diego, we understand that opioid addiction can be extremely challenging. We know the right environment is crucial to a patient’s recovery. Our drug and alcohol treatment center is perfectly situated in the heart of San Diego.
Whether you are just leaving rehab or are in the first steps of your journey to sobriety, our center will always be warm and inviting. We have created a safe and positive space to provide group therapy, as well as individual or family counseling.
Our world class Intensive Outpatient Program enables clients to receive evidence based drug treatment in an Outpatient setting, while still being able to continue working and staying engaged with home and family.
We are proud of our certified and compassionate therapists who work tirelessly with each client in group and individual counseling sessions. We provide support, healthy solutions, and an appropriate action plan for each client.
If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction, start getting your life back by calling us today!