Many of us take pride in being from Maryland; we like to think of our great state as the best place to get blue crabs and crab cakes, and as being the home of the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens. However, Maryland is also gaining a reputation for leading the nation in substance abuse, particularly opioid addiction, with Maryland having the 5th highest opioid overdose death rate in the country in 2017 according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
First of all: what are opioids?
Opioids are substances that include prescription drugs such as oxycodone and morphine. The opioid category also includes heroin and fentanyl. All opioids can be deadly in overdose. The number of opioid related deaths in Maryland is rising dramatically. In 2017, deaths related to opioid related overdoses rose 70% compared to the previous year, totaling almost 1,800 lives claimed. The numbers continue to rise every year.
Why do people use opioids?
Many people begin using opioids as prescription painkillers, but because these drugs are highly addictive, some continue using the medication improperly long after they are prescribed, and in larger doses. When prescriptions run out, some people switch to illegal opioids like heroin, which can be lethal even in small doses.
What is causing the rise in opioid-related overdoses and deaths?
Because of the frequency at which opioids have been prescribed by doctors, pharmaceutical company marketing and downplaying of risks, the ease of obtaining them, and their addictive nature, the numbers of people that are dealing with opioid addiction has been rising for years. No one takes opioids with the intention of becoming a “drug user.” Once addicted, many people are afraid to admit they need help, or are scared to get treatment because of the stigma associated with substance abuse. They may be ashamed to admit they need help, do not know how to get the help they need, or are scared to stop using. They worry about the judgment, getting arrested, or even losing their job or friends.
No one should feel this way. And they should not have to.
Opioid addiction is actually an illness, and like any illness, it requires medical treatment. In 2017, the federal government declared opioid addiction a national public health emergency. This declaration allowed more resources to become available for treatment, prevention, and recovery support services. Maryland also has declared a state of emergency. As a result, Maryland has passed several laws to make it easier for people dealing with opioid addiction to get help, including making Narcan, a quick acting drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, readily available for anyone and allowing people to seek help for others without risk of arrest for possession or other drug-related charges.
With all of this in mind, if you or someone you know is dealing with opioid addiction, now is the time to get help and start on the path to recovery. You or your loved one deserves that. Here at Sheppard Pratt Health System, we help. You heal.
No one should be afraid to ask for help for opioid addiction for themselves or a loved one. But, how do you ask for help? Where should you begin?
While it may be difficult when you are first reaching out for assistance and making that decision to get help, know that taking that first step is brave.
- If you are nervous or overwhelmed about broaching the subject face to face, try sending a text or writing a note to someone you love and trust.
- Talk with your primary care doctor or clergy.
- Remember that you are not alone! Every family has been touched by this issue in some way.
- If you are worried about how a loved one may react, instead of choosing to ask them, tell someone that you know has also dealt with substance use problems in the past. You could even attend a support group such as AA, NA or Smart Recovery as a first step.
- Alternatively, you can always seek help from a professional by calling our Therapy Referral Service at 410-938-5000 on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, call 911 or text HELLO to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line 741741. Remember, the laws in Maryland allow you to get help for someone without fear of criminal penalties.
Support is important. Everyone deserves support, and support is crucial during recovery. While substance use disorders are not “curable,” recovery from addiction is possible through proven, research-based methods. Treatment typically begins with detoxification, which may require medication, and is followed by therapy, support groups, and lifestyle changes. Treatment and recovery are different for everyone, but these main principles remain the same, and each one of them requires help from others.
While the initial detoxification can be difficult and scary, the real work takes place following that initial phase. Support can come in the form of friends and family, but mutual-help groups are also important. Although many people may be hesitant about attending a “program,” building a network of people that are dealing with a similar situation is shown to be helpful and necessary to maintain recovery. Programs like NA and AA can foster a sense of strength, involvement, connection, and inspiration.
In addition to attending support groups, therapy is often a crucial part of treatment for successful recovery. Addiction affects many areas of a person’s life, including their relationships, jobs, health, mental health, and more. Often it is these issues that make one vulnerable to substance-use disorders to begin with or which make lasting recovery difficult. It is important to understand what led to the addiction, to treat any underlying mental health concerns that may have contributed to the addiction, and to deal with any potential struggles that may result from stopping opioid use.
Be prepared for change. While detoxification is the first step in recovery, that is only one part of it. Recovery is a process and requires changes in the way you think about yourself and the world. Your body will go through withdrawal symptoms which will be difficult, but you will also need to make productive and positive lifestyle choices. For instance, a person who has been using opioids to mask physical or psychological pain will need to find other coping mechanisms. Changes are different for everyone. Some people may find that they need to alter the people they were hanging out with, or the places they were frequenting, while others may find that engaging in new hobbies is important. Whatever it is, a substance-free lifestyle takes getting used to and requires effort, thought, self-control, and discipline. Always remember that you or your loved one deserves support, and it is out there.
It will be a long process, but worth it. Recovery is ongoing, and it’s never linear. There will be times that are more difficult than others – holidays, special occasions, stressful days. Know that a relapse may occur, but that does not mean you have failed. Do not give up – trust that it is part of the process. You or your loved one may need an adjustment of medication, a bigger support system, different therapy, or a more intensive treatment.
It can take time to find the right treatment that works. The initial steps on the path towards recovery will be difficult, but it will get easier, and you will feel better. Your brain, your mind, and your body will all improve.
If you are struggling with addiction or have a loved one that is hurting, contact our Therapy Referral Service at 410-938-5000 on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Dr. Thomas Franklin is the medical director of The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt. He is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a candidate at the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis. He is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine and Psychiatry, and has extensive experience in psychotherapy, psychopharmacology, and addictions and co-occurring disorders. Dr. Franklin previously served as medical director of Ruxton House, The Retreat’s transitional living program, before assuming the role of medical director of The Retreat in 2014.