According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, opioid addiction and overdose account for more than 2,000 deaths in Illinois per year. And the number of people dying is projected to increase every year unless changes are made.
Although opioid addiction and overdose may feel like a current event, it’s actually a public health concern that’s been quietly building over the past 20 years. In the late ‘90s, pharmaceutical companies began pushing opioids for pain management. As a result, physicians began prescribing – often overprescribing – these medications, leading to many people becoming addicted. Once these individuals lost their ability to get new prescriptions from physicians they went to buy from other, illegal, markets – where heroin is much less expensive than prescription pills in part because it is much less safe. The result: in 2017, the opioid epidemic was declared a public health emergency.
It’s important to distinguish between simple chemical dependence and addiction. For example, a person who takes opioids after knee replacement surgery may experience some withdrawal symptoms after finishing the medication. This is a classic case of chemical dependence – and it’s not the same as addiction.
With an addiction, a person’s use of opioids has not only grown, but grown out of control, and although the drugs are causing significant problems in their life, they continue to use them, regardless. For these people, opioids feel like a solution in the moment, but in the long run, they end up creating far more problems than they solve. When people suffer from addiction, using opioids provides very little sense of relief anymore – they are simply struggling to feel “normal,” or get through their day without going into withdrawal. Securing their next dose, using the drugs, and potentially hiding the extent of their use becomes a dominating force in their life.
One of the hallmarks of addiction is that people start having legal, health, financial or social problems – yet they continue to take the substance. Other signs include lethargy, clouded thinking, being distracted and personality changes.
Unfortunately, only about 10 percent of people with addictions seek treatment. This is often due to the stigma attached to addiction. Many people are also fearful about talking to a doctor and worry their pills will be taken away. Doctors at Edward-Elmhurst Health have received special training related to opioids and addiction; they know that simply ending a prescription without a better, sustainable solution will not help, and will partner with you to help chart a safe path forward out of your opioid use.
There are a number of ways to treat opioid addiction. One of the most effective options is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Some people balk at the idea of taking medication to kick an opioid addiction. But 90 percent of people who try to get sober without medication are unsuccessful. Thinking about addiction as a disease like any other sometimes helps – just like you take an antibiotic to get rid of strep throat, medication can help you kick an addiction.
MAT involves taking medication that eliminates opioid cravings, as well as prevents withdrawal symptoms. It also inhibits the usual effects of taking an opioid. This allows a person to focus on the psychological and social aspects of addiction. Coupled with therapy, this type of treatment is successful for many people.
Linden Oaks Behavioral Health offers a dedicated detox unit for people trying to overcome opioid addiction. We also offer a Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) Clinic at the Linden Oaks Outpatient Center in Naperville. Patients are treated using a combination of medication, group therapy and case management.