Odds of Recovering from Heroin Addiction-
The Huff Post January 28, 2015 article by Jason Cherkis, “Dying To Be Free: There’s A Treatment For Heroin Addiction That Actually Works. Why Aren’t We Using It?” tells us that according to the addicts, their families, their doctors, and the historical research, the best of the three most useful medications for maintenance is buprenorphine with naloxone—a.k.a. Suboxone. It was formulated back in 1970 and proven effective by the black market where addicts trying to stay clean have used it for decades. Meanwhile the FDA has been extremely slow to give it the green light.
The many restrictions placed on Suboxone include allowing only a small percentage of doctors to prescribe it. Additionally, the number of patients they can prescribe it to is limited, along with the amount that may be prescribed at one time, the dosage, and the length of time the patient can continue with it. Doctors point out this is hampering both their and their patients’ efforts at recovery, and many experts say keeping this drug out of the hands of those it could help is medical abuse.
Many medical experts agree that Suboxone is the best hope for overcoming heroin addiction. Suboxone can easily be taken at home, allowing the recovering addict to go on to live a fairly normal life because it relieves the patient of the burden of commuting to a methadone clinic early in the morning, as required by law.
Could it really be a surprise to lawmakers that the restriction of Suboxone leaves the addict to increased risk of failure in their quest to stay clean? We are talking about coping with what is probably the most addictive mind-altering substance on the planet. Why are lawmakers making it as difficult as possible for addicts to get something that will help them recover? It has to do with fears of Suboxone addiction. While this is a possibility, there are safeguards to prevent this problem. With so many addicts dying, it seems too much weight is put on the wrong safety valve.
The Failure of Willpower
Besides maintenance medication, emotional and mental support must be built in to the addict’s lifestyle to prevent recidivism. This support might include Narcotics Anonymous, psychology-based therapies, behavior modification courses, etc., which, incorporated into the addict’s life become the “new normal.” These support options have been proven to improve a great number of addicts in their chances of maintaining a wholesome, productive life.
Dr. Mary Jeanne Kreek would agree. She is one of the three scientists who, back in 1960, deemed methadone as being successful in helping addicts maintain sobriety. She points out that medication and counseling combined is most effective for treating and maintaining sobriety in opioid addicts. But, she says, there is currently resistance with an emphasis on “willpower over chemistry.” She points out this is the standard despite “peer-reviewed data and evidence-based practices.”
The results of the “willpower over chemistry” stance is told in Cherkis’ Huff Post article through the heartbreaking stories of families in Kentucky, the US’s highest heroin offender state. He reveals the no substances stance has its stronghold with the judges there who repeatedly send addicts to the revolving doors of either the prisons or the rehab centers that do not want to include drugs as part of the treatment for drug addiction. Their logic is that the treatment drug is only a replacement addiction. Based on evidence that “drug-free” prisons and rehab centers have high recidivism rates, and a high incidence of death among offenders shortly after a second or third stay, you would hope these judges would consider what peer-reviewed data show, that willpower alone largely does not work.
Luxury Drug Rehab Centers
A google of luxury facilities will help you quickly find centers that follow the experts’ recommended protocol of combining behavior modification and medication to reduce cravings, improve maintenance, and improve long-term results.14 But most people don’t have the spare funds or insurance coverage for these, and have to rely on taxpayer-subsidized centers which, like the many judges who send them there or to prison, are of the opinion that using another drug to treat drug addiction is a mistake.
With subsidized rehab centers for heroin addicts primarily consisting of 12-Step programs without the aid of medications, their revolving doors appear to be financially lucrative. “It’s a service that rewards the failure of the service,” says Dr. Johnson of the University of Maryland, who has received honors for his research, including a 2001 award from Hazelden, a Minnesota-based drug and alcohol treatment provider that helped to popularize the 12-step method, for having furthered “the scientific knowledge of addiction recovery.” In a recent interview, he called conventional 12-step treatments by themselves “inadequate care.”
Doing No Harm
On November 17, 2016, the Surgeon General reported that telling the opioid addict to make better choices is useless in treating addiction. He adds that one in ten Americans are addicted to drugs, and the result is one overdose death every 19 minutes in the U.S. He considers the directive based on current legal and protocol standards–instead of appropriate medical intervention–is proving dangerous. It seems clear, per the Surgeon General’s caveat, the addict must be treated as a patient rather than a criminal to have any hope of recovery.
Once the opioid addict receives the medications and behavioral therapies that are supported by the data and practical evidence, I believe they can latch on to their life, to at least a small degree, via their interests—their passions. I saw one of my sons, addicted to methamphetamine, latch on to the therapeutic directive of positive thinking, sans drugs. That said, numbers of overdose by meth is not an epidemic, and apparently it doesn’t carry the extremely strong craving over time, as does heroin.
No, he was not a heroin or opioid addict. Neither was my other son—until he became one. But quitting crystal meth is no picnic either. Although overdose death by methamphetamine, cocaine, or ecstasy is not so common as death by opioid, there unfortunately is no safe medication that can be administered to a dying victim of overdose by those. The only emergency treatment for those substances is benzodiazepine, which only treats paranoia and agitation and can only be administered by a medical doctor. In a sense, this ironically makes an opioid overdose more treatable than overdose by meth, coke or ecstasy; yet death by opioid overdose is far more common.
My point here is that my now successful son took on his new life with positive thinking, which allowed him to believe he could pursue his passion of driving a race car. Yes, he replaced his addiction with another addiction, a somewhat dangerous one, but I’m certain it not only saved his life, it gave him a chance to gain satisfaction in adding value to the world. He pursued Nascar racing with his newly-established habit of a positive attitude (something I didn’t initially have about his new sport). This led to his achievement of winning a coveted regional championship in America’s most popular sport.
It’s time to stop all this horrific drama by learning the realities about drug prevention, addiction and recovery, and stop allowing this deadly opioid epidemic to continue growing unchecked. We can solve this problem by teaching our children well, providing them with the means to value life—their own and others’. Meanwhile, addicts need the means to get clean and learn how to pursue life happily and successfully.
It seems apparent that once addicts’ willpower is intact with the aid of medications, behavioral therapies can work. Learning to cope with emotional and physical pain through positive thinking habits, along with discovering and living value-creating passions, are the means by which anyone not in the throes of addiction cravings can latch on to life without drugs. Anyone who values and has latched on to their life is unwilling to give in to a recreational high or pain reduction with drugs.
But leaving the recovering addict to a non-existent willpower without medications is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Withholding medications hasn’t worked to get addicts to where they can cope with life. Meanwhile there is proof that addicts can be weaned from this gripping drug. Opiates are valuable in managing major pain without the patient becoming addicted, and using them to wean the addict off of them is said to be their best hope.
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End of Part 3; Part 4 Coming Soon!
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Part 3 Footnotes
5. Choice, Giles: Addiction Isn’t a. “Giles: Addiction Isn’t a Choice.” Www.roanoke.com. Accessed December 16, 2016. http://www.roanoke.com/opinion/letters/giles-addiction-isn-t-a-choice/article_341bd7e1-a53d-553d-a413-83e8e168ecde.html.
15. “The 5 Stages of Meth Recovery.” Quitting Crystal Meth. Accessed December 17, 2016. http://www.quittingcrystalmeth.com/the-5-stages-of-meth-recovery/.