“I’m an opiate addict” is a statement that evokes deep rooted emotions in people. Almost everyone knows someone who is an addict. I’m going to talk about the opioid epidemic specifically, and what people living with opioid addiction need in order to be successful.
I am 25 now, but was prescribed oxycodone (Percocet) when I was 15, for severe back pain. My Doctor knew that both my parents had a history of opioid drug abuse, as well as my own history of mental illness. Still, I was prescribed my first opiate. I didn’t know what I was signing up for; I was a child. I sure didn’t think that prescription would have led to a 10+ year addiction. Of course, it didn’t start out that way, and it wasn’t my intent. Over the course of the next 2 years I would lose my father to a heroin overdose, witness my mother overdose, and start to quietly form an addiction myself.
Patients Rising is working with Emergent BioSolutions and partners in the chronic pain community to learn what people know about Standing Orders - the ability to get access to a medicine like Naloxone, without a prescription. If opioids or naloxone have touched your life in any way, please take this brief survey to help us know what information people need. Thank you. - Jim Sliney Jr, RMA, editor
THE DISEASE OF ADDICTION
I remember when my one month supply would last the entire month. Then, one day, the one-pill didn’t touch my back pain, so I took two and didn’t think much of it. It was a low dose and it was only two pills. That is how it starts. It got to the point where after a year of being in active addiction, my tolerance had climbed. This is a problem for many reasons. Once your tolerance climbs, the user needs to take more and more to feel any effects, or to prevent themselves from going into withdrawal and getting sick.
I’m from a state where the Opioid epidemic is an ongoing crisis, people talk about naloxone often but not where to get it so I asked on social media. Someone who replied told me about my local harm reduction center. That was a term I hadn’t heard, but it sounded intriguing. What is harm reduction? Harm reduction is crucial to keeping people who use drugs alive and healthy.
According to samhsa.gov, harm reduction aims to
- Connect individuals to overdose education, counseling, and referral to treatment
- Distribute opioid overdose reversal medications (e.g., naloxone)
- Reduce infectious disease transmission among people who use drugs.
- Reduce overdose deaths
- Reduce stigma associated with substance use and co-occurring disorders
- Promote a philosophy of hope and healing, and connecting those who have expressed interest to treatment, peer support workers and other recovery support services.
GET INVOLVED IN HARM REDUCTION
I decided pretty quickly that harm reduction was going to be my “thing”. Some sober folk have Alcoholics Anonymous, I have harm reduction. Harm reduction is a great way to surround yourself with a supportive community. The opposite of addiction is connection, after all.
Although programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are their own lifelines, joining a non profit and/or volunteering for your harm reduction center is an amazing way to become involved locally.
On every Wednesday I volunteer with 4-6 other community members and we make safe injection kits. We provide the user with safe, sterile tools. Usually it is myself and another lady, making the kits and we make between 100-150 per week. Later, other volunteers will go to designated locations and hand the safe kits out to those who require them.
ADDICTION AND SAFETY
People will continue to use drugs, especially in a society that demonizes addicts. Addiction is a disease. Why wouldn’t we provide full healthcare to our patients that have substance abuse disorder? Treatment, rehab, therapy…those are all options, but we need more access and more options. We need to be more accepting of our loved ones who may require a maintenance drug in order to stay safe (e.g. suboxone, methadone).
Naloxone is something everyone should carry. It is commonly given as a nasal spray. Once given it may send the user into withdrawal.
Three simple yet crucial rules:
- Don’t use alone
- Test your drugs
- Carry naloxone
There are apps you can download or call Never Use Alone
So how can you help people in your community? Call a local harm reduction center and ask if they need help. Carry naloxone and help end stigma by talking about substance abuse on social media. Addiction can be one of the loneliest places on earth. Sometimes just knowing we aren’t alone in this pain helps both the addict personally, and how society speaks about addictions, drugs, and people with substance abuse disorder.
There is a major difference between glorifying and enabling and bringing awareness and safety. Harm reduction is a program that has kept me sober simply by providing community.
Listen to addicts.
You may just save someone’s life.
From the Editor:
A sincere THANK YOU to Jane Doe, the author of this article. It isn’t easy speaking frankly about such a stigmatized issue, so Jane, thank you for your courage and willingness to help others.