Opioid Addiction: Treating Symptoms vs. Addressing the Disease
Addiction is a disease. This is an important statement when addressing the fight against drugs and helping individuals, their families and communities move forward toward healthy and productive lives.
A recent article profiled the work of one member of the Holy Family Church in Cincinnati, Ohio that recently distributed 70 Narcan kits to its congregation during a weekend retreat. This initiative was started after a member of church witnessed the deaths among his community members from opioid-based overdoses. What made this interesting is that the Church worked with the Ohio state attorney general’s office to secure the Narcan. Narcan, which has been used by hospitals and emergency responders, counteracts the effects of opioids and can reverse an overdose. While the story illustrates the good intentions of one individual, I think it demonstrates how the country perceives the fight against drugs as fighting the outcome (death) versus the cause (addiction). Administrating Narcan may save a life, however it is not addressing the reasons why the individual was in this position and brings me back to my original statement that addiction is a disease.
Let me be clear — the treatment of opioid addiction is possible. In order to counteract the hold that opioid-based drugs (ie. OxyContin, Lortab, Vicodin, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and Heroin) have on individuals, it is important that two sides of the equation are addressed.
The first step to recovery is to minimize the cravings for opioids. This cannot be achieved overnight. It also can’t be achieved with only will power. Opioid addiction is unique in that it changes the chemical make up of an individual by attaching directly to the brain’s receptors. The best way to resolve this addiction is to treat it with proven drugs in a controlled manner that diminishes the individual’s cravings and allows them to return to a normal life while engaging in sustained clinical and support services. Today, there are three drugs that can be administered to fight the cravings of opioids, including:
- Methadone: when administered daily, relieves opiate craving and withdrawal for 24 to 36 hours without creating euphoria or sedation.
- Buprenorphine: when administered daily, blocks painful withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
- Vivitrol: is unique in that it blocks other opioids from acting upon brain receptors in order to ease drug cravings.
The second part of the equation is embracing sustained clinical services while taking one of the above-mentioned treatments. This is a critical step to helping individuals understand what is occurring within their bodies and brain, as well as allowing them to successfully re-enter society as a functioning participant.
When an individual is addicted to opioids, there is a ripple effect. Within families, the addict is often alienated and tension is created throughout the entire family. In communities, it creates a negative element that changes the culture. Understanding and embracing those addicted to various forms of opioids is a first step to helping change destructive behavior and continued use. That is why the efforts of the Ohio state attorney general’s office and the Holy Family Church are failing the larger group of opioid addicted individuals in the Cincinnati community. It is critical that we treat the disease and the cause of the opioid addiction.
As a culture, we need to have a strong understanding of what opioids do to its victims, understand what is involved in the entire healing process, including the drugs that are available to help alleviate addiction. The road to recovery and creating measurable goals is something that everyone should strive for.
At our treatment centers we find that our patients are more employable, that they quit the use of opiate after six to 24 months of treatment and are less likely to be involved in criminal activity. These three attributes are attained when the individual is committed to the sustained and prescribed treatment. Individuals are able to become functioning individuals that are able to resume a quality of life that did not exist prior.