The Opioid Crisis—What to do about it NOW?

By Laurie Conaty, MSW, LCSW, LCAS

The opioid crisis is all over the news—local and international.  And it is in our own community.

So, first things first.  What is important to know?  The first thing all of us can do is to dispel the myth that addiction only happens to certain types of people.  In fact, it cuts across religion, socioeconomic status, education, race, ethnicity, etc.  It has no boundaries or limits.  If I could, I would put this on billboards and repeat it 10 times in this article.  ADDICTION HAS NO BOUNDARIES OR LIMITS!

Addiction, in its simplest form is the body adapting to having a certain substance in it and to feel normal, that substance must be present (addiction.)  This can apply to opiates, alcohol, benzodiazepines and so on.  In fact, many medications, taken exactly as prescribed for a specific period of time results in ‘physical’ addiction.  Hence, any of us can become addicted to an addictive agent under the proper circumstances.  So, whether or not a drug is prescribed does not have to do with addiction, it has to do with the properties of the drug and the drug’s effect on the human body.

Next, if you have any opiate medications in your home, be sure they are secure—i.e., not in the medicine cabinet or the bathroom drawer.  Lock them up.  Remember, opiate addiction does not limit itself so no one should have access to the medication except the person for whom it is prescribed.

Talk with your prescriber about alternative approaches to pain management than opiates.  A plethora of research describes that patient/prescriber conversation about pain, alternative strategies to managing pain and  non-opioid pain management has excellent outcomes.

If you suspect that someone you care about is using/abusing opiates, clearly and lovingly express your concern.  Do not be shy about asking for an observed urine drug screen.  This can be life-saving for your loved one.  In fact, if you know or suspect that someone you care about is using opiates, contact your local pharmacy about ways to obtain Narcan to have on hand to reverse overdose.  Rarely is opiate withdrawal life-threatening; it is miserable, but not life threatening.  Opiate overdose IS life threatening.  Please get Narcan.

Move past the shame or embarrassment if you or a family member has addiction!  Tall order, I know.  But putting shame or embarrassment aside will allow you to get treatment for yourself or family member.  Don’t keep it to yourself; tell anyone close to you or your family member and who is in a position to help (healthcare provider, faith leader, etc.).

Don’t enable and don’t get mad at the person with addictive disease.  Another tall order.  Try to imagine how you would handle it if the person had a chronic, life-threatening illness that sometimes they did not manage very well.  Most people would talk to this person, express love and concern and also, set some limits.  For instance, I am really concerned that you are not managing your high blood pressure well and I am really worried that you are going to have a stroke.  From now on, I am not going to buy you groceries that are high in salt and I am not going to go out to eat with you because of the poor choices you make.  All said with love and concern.  Same thing goes for addictive disease.  

Take aways:  Addiction can happen to anyone who uses opiates (and some other substances.)  Don’t get mad and don’t let shame control your behavior.   Talk about it—it is not a secret that should be kept.  Don’t judge it, just take action.  Get Narcan.  Express love and express concern and set limits is the plan.

If this doesn’t work-consult with a professional who has the knowledge and expertise to help you develop a plan to help you or your loved one.  Consider attending Naranon.  Call us at Behavioral Healthcare Associates, LLC if we can help — 919-292-1464.  You can also gather more information about our comprehensive mental health and substance use outpatient practice on our website