Addressing the opioid crisis

August 08, 2019 | by Aaron Weiner, Ph.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Each day, more than 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose. Drug overdose is the current leading cause of accidental death in this country and nearly 70 percent of all drug overdose deaths are from opioids.

The opioid crisis is only getting worse. In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids was six times higher than in 1999. The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017.

How are people getting opioids?

Physicians prescribe opioids every day to help manage pain from surgeries, chronic conditions or cancer, among others. Roughly 21-29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.

Plus, the illegal variety of opioids, including heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, are far more available today than they have ever been.

How are people getting addicted?

This is a culture of overprescribing pain medication. For many people, addiction to opioids began with a prescription. Today, 77 percent of opioid prescription medications taken by new users are obtained from a friend or relative.

Almost everyone who uses opioids over a long period of time will develop a tolerance to them and experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking them.

What are the types of opioid dependency?

Opioids can lead to substance use disorders and addiction in the following ways

  • Physical dependence: Natural bodily adaptation that happens to everyone. This includes tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. A patient with chronic pain, using medicine as prescribed, can develop physical dependence.
  • Psychological dependence: “Needing” the substance to cope. Many recreational users develop psychological dependence. Opioids are particularly desirable because of their ability to numb emotional pain, so individuals with underlying depression or anxiety may be more vulnerable.
  • Substance use disorder: A combination of the above. This could look like a patient on pain medication whose use of opioids escalates beyond their prescription, and who starts using others’ pills, frequently requests early refills, buys from street sources, or engages in “doctor shopping.” 

What are we doing to address the opioid crisis?

Edward-Elmhurst Health is putting huge efforts into preventing the misuse of and addiction to opioids.  In spring 2016, Edward-Elmhurst Health commissioned an Opioid Task Force to focus on the issue in our patients and in our communities. The task force, including representatives from medical staff, behavioral health and pain management, takes a holistic approach, including physician prescribing practices, alternative methods of pain management and management of the addiction.

Today 62 percent of teens who admit to taking drugs for non-medical reasons say they get them from medicine cabinets in their homes. As part of this task force, we launched a new Medication Take-Back Program to provide accessible, safe places for the public to dispose of dangerous medication.

We also opened a Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) Clinic at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health for those who want to kick opioid addiction. The medication suppresses withdrawal symptoms and stifles cravings for the drug, while therapy is used to address the underlying trigger for the drug use.

Further, we are advancing better practices for pain management in our Pain Clinics. This includes a change in focus from narcotics to non-narcotic medications as well as alternate treatments, including integrative medicine services.

Lastly, if someone overdoses, we all must be ready to respond. Now that the majority of first responders in Illinois carry naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdoses, more lives are being saved

Our country’s opioid crisis is far from over, but there is hope. With education and awareness, together we can turn the tide.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an opioid addiction, you’re not alone. We can help you get your life back.  Explore services at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health or fill out this assessment form online and one of our team members will contact you. You can also call us at 630-305-5027.

Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago:

The dangers of opioid addiction

Related blogs:

Reversing an opioid overdose with naloxone

Linden Oaks offers a path to hope for those struggling with opioid addiction

It’s time to end the stigma of opioid addiction

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