More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, with more than 20,000 of them being fatal opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).1 The majority of opioid overdoses are accidental and unfortunately, the risk isn’t just limited to adults, but it also extends to adolescents and children.2
With drug overdose being a global public health issue and opioids at the front and center of the crisis, it’s no surprise that the administration of an opioid antagonist like naloxone has become an accepted part of opioid overdose management, both inside and outside of hospitals.
Naloxone: A Lifesaving Drug
Naloxone (sold as Narcan) is a medication that rapidly reverses opioid overdoses. It was patented in 1961 and approved by the FDA in 1971 for opioid overdose. As an opioid antagonist, it binds to opioid receptors to block and reverse the effects of other opioids.3 When a person overdoses on heroin or other opioids, their breathing becomes very slow or may even stop completely. Naloxone works to restore healthy and normal breathing patterns, ultimately keeping the individual alive.
Although it can reverse opioid overdoses, naloxone use can also result in opioid withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Body aches
- Chills/hot flashes
Naloxone can be administered three different ways:
- Intravenously: liquid naloxone is administered via IV directly into the veins
- Injected: Naloxone is injected via needle into a muscle
- Nasal spray: Naloxone is sprayed into one nostril while the person lays on their back
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), naloxone is a prescription drug, but in some cases, you can buy it from pharmacies without a prescription from a doctor.4 In fact, ABC News recently reported that more than 8,000 Walgreens pharmacies will now carry a form of naloxone and anyone will be able to walk in and buy it.5
Although it has been used to reverse opioid overdoses for decades in hospitals, this is the first time naloxone will be so widely and publically available.
The High Risk of Opioid Addiction and Overdoses
The CDC reports that most drug overdose deaths involve an opioid and much of the opioid and heroin abuse may first begin with prescription opioid drug abuse. The amount of prescription opioid drugs sold to doctors, pharmacies, and hospitals quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, but Americans had not reported in a change in the amount of pain they were experiencing.6 Many people believe that overprescribing is a primary contributor to the overdose epidemic we are experiencing.
Although opioid painkillers are generally safe when taken as prescribed and for a short period of time, they produce a sense of euphoria in addition to relieving the pain, making them highly addictive and also creating a high potential for misuse and abuse.
Even people who take prescription opioids as prescribed by their doctor may become addicted. Opioid misuse is very dangerous and often leads to overdose and death. Some individuals may also eventually transition into heroin use, as heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain.
Getting Help for Opioid Addiction
Naloxone may save a person’s life and prevent death by overdose, but it won’t necessarily keep them from overdosing again. Opioid addiction causes a person to obsessively seek out the drug and continue using it, despite the harmful physical, psychological, and social effects it causes. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain and will require professional help to overcome. Although a person may want to stop using opioid drugs, an addicted individual will require physical and behavioral treatment to stop all use of the drug(s).
Opioid addiction treatment should always begin with detox, which is the process of physically stopping all drug use. Individuals who are addicted to opioids will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop using, but medically assisted detox programs, such as those offered at Briarwood, help clients achieve a stable, sober state while managing any uncomfortable physical withdrawal symptoms.
Long-Term Drug Rehab for Opioid Addiction
Once opioid detox has been completed, a person will have the best opportunity for long-term sobriety if they participate in behavioral treatment at a drug rehab center. Long-term drug rehab helps people in recovery from opioid addiction modify their unhealthy and addictive behaviors while gaining the necessary life skills to manage stress and anxiety without resorting to drug use.
Treatment for opioid addiction will look different for everyone, but the primary goals are the same: learn how to live a sober, fulfilling life without the influence of opioid drugs.
If you or a loved one is addicted to prescription opioid painkillers or another opioid drug such as heroin, the professionals at Briarwood can help. Our detox center provides medically assisted opioid detox programs for addicted individuals in all situations. Whether you’ve been addicted for years or months, we can help you get clean and start a new life of sobriety. Please contact Briarwood Detox Center today to learn more.