Opioids are among the biggest threats to public health in the United States. The past several years have seen the rise of the opioid crisis, which has involved a spike in opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose rates. The opioid problem in the U.S. has come from a combination of the overprescription of legal opioids and the increased availability of illicit opioids like heroin. The introduction of the powerful opioid fentanyl into illicit drug supplies has also contributed to a spike in overdose deaths. As a highly populated coastal county, Palm Beach County is vulnerable to both prescription opioid misuse and illegal drug trafficking. The Palm Beach area is among the most affected areas in the state of Florida when it comes to opioid-related deaths.
However, there are treatment options available in Palm Beach County. Learn more about opioid use disorders and how they can be treated in the Palm Beach area.
What are Opioids?
An opioid is a chemical that acts on opioid receptors in the brain. They can be found in nature, in which case they are called opiates. They can also be modified by chemists to create semi-synthetic opioids or completely designed in labs to create synthetic opioids. Opioids are used as prescription medications to treat moderate to severe pain symptoms. Opioid receptors naturally bind with endorphins, a neurotransmitter in your brain that’s responsible for pain regulation. However, prescription opioids are much more powerful than your body’s natural opioids and can block even severe pain signals from being sent and received from nerve cells throughout the body. Popular opioid prescriptions include Vicodin and OxyContin, which both contain oxycodone, but there are several other opioids that are used for medical purposes, including morphine, hydrocodone, codeine, and oxymorphone.
In addition to the pain-relieving effects of opioids, they can also cause you to feel sedated, comfortable, euphoric, and an overall sense of well-being. Opioids mimic endorphins, which are one of several “feel-good chemicals” in the brain. It can also have an effect on endorphins, which is another one of these chemicals that’s tied to reward and motivation. These chemicals that create mentally and physically positive feelings work with your brain’s reward center. Since opioids can produce such positive feelings, they have a high potential for recreational misuse. And since they also interact with your brain’s reward center, they can cause addiction and powerful compulsions to continue using opioids, even when you don’t need them to treat pain.
Prescription opioids can be used as recreational drugs, but illicit opioids like heroin are often cheaper and easier to find. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as much as 80% of people that use heroin report that they start by using prescription opioids. Opioid misuse dramatically increases your risk of addiction and chemical dependence, but using prescription opioids can also cause dependence if you use the drug for too long.
Opioid Overdose Symptoms
Opioid misuse can cause life-threatening overdose, which is one of the most significant drug-related public health problems in Florida. The sedating effects of opioids can impair some important functions of your brain and nervous system. High doses of an opioid can slow down certain automatic functions of your nervous symptoms, including your breathing. This is called respiratory depression, and it’s one of the most dangerous symptoms of an opioid overdose. In many fatal cases of opioid-involved overdoses, respiratory depression leads to oxygen deprivation, brain damage, coma, and death.
Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
Opioids can also cause chemical dependence that leads to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them or cut back. Opioids aren’t known to cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms as depressants can, but opioid withdrawal can act as a barrier to sobriety for many people. Opioid withdrawal mimics many of the symptoms you might experience with a bad case of the flu. Runny nose, nausea, vomiting, chills, and diarrhea are common. On top of those uncomfortable symptoms, you may also experience powerful drug cravings that make relapse difficult to resist without help.
Palm Beach County Opioid Misuse Statistics
Opioids are a common source of addiction and overdose problems in Palm Beach County and in Florida as a whole. According to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission report in 2019, there were 28,853 investigated deaths that were linked to drug use. Of these, 6,128 were related to opioids, and opioids are thought to be the cause of death in 4,294 of those cases. Researchers are still compiling data for 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have made a significant impact on substance use problems all over the country. Medical examiners reported data from the first six months of 2020 and found that opioid-related deaths rose more than 30% when compared to January to June in 2019.
In West Palm Beach, there were 112 morphine-related deaths in the first six months of 2020. Many morphine-related deaths are expected to involve heroin because your body breaks down heroin into morphine quickly after taking the drug. Fentanyl is a leading cause of drug-related deaths in Florida. The powerful opioid is often used to increase the potency of heroin and other substances. However, fentanyl is so powerful; it can cause deadly overdoses in relatively small doses. Many users that encounter fentanyl don’t realize they’re not just taking heroin.
At the beginning of 2020, there were 2,838 fentanyl-related deaths in the state, and 905 deaths related to fentanyl analogs. In West Palm Beach, there were 337 fentanyl-related deaths in the same time frame. Fentanyl was thought to be the primary cause of death in all but 25 of those cases.
Does Palm Beach County Have an Opioid Problem?
Opioids are a significant problem in the state and the problem seems to be getting worse. For nearly a decade, alcohol was the number one cause of substance-related deaths in Florida. In 2019, alcohol-related deaths dwarfed any other single substance, and it was involved in 18.2% of deaths, with the next highest being fentanyl at 12.3%. However, fentanyl surpassed alcohol in the first half of 2020. As much as 16.2% of drug-related deaths involved fentanyl compared to 16.1% involving alcohol, even though alcohol sales rose in Florida and all over the country.
Palm Beach County seems to have been affected by opioid use problems more than other counties, even heavily populated ones. West Palm Beach was on par with Miami, Jacksonville, and Fort Lauderdale in oxycodone and hydrocodone-related deaths. However, the city significantly surpassed the others in morphine deaths, which likely involve heroin. Finally, between January and June, West Palm Beach saw the most fentanyl-related deaths compared to the top 25 cities in the state.
How Does Opioid Treatment Work?
Opioid use disorders are a significant public health problem in Palm Beach County. To address it, residents need access to treatment services that can help them overcome addiction. Opioid addiction treatment is a complex process that’s designed to address multidimensional needs that may come with substance use issues. Effect treatment will be able to address medical, psychological, and social issues that can be causes or consequences of addiction. Addiction treatment should also be personalized to your individual needs. There is no ultimate treatment plan that works for every person since addiction is such a complex disease with many potential underlying factors.
Treatment is also separated into several levels of care. The highest level is medically managed detoxification, which involves 24-hour attention from medical professionals. Detox is for people that are likely to encounter serious withdrawal symptoms. Opioids aren’t usually life-threatening during withdrawal, but withdrawal can be extremely unpleasant and difficult to get through on your own. The second level of care is inpatient or residential treatment services. This level isn’t as intensive as detox services but still involves 24-hour medical monitoring or clinical care.
People that have low levels of medical or psychological needs and a low risk of relapse or continued drug use may live independently and attend outpatient treatment. Intensive outpatient treatment involves nine or more hours of care each week. At this same level, you could go through 20 or more hours of treatment each week, which is called partial hospitalization. Outpatient treatment requires fewer than nine hours of care each week, and is the lowest level of care in treatment, but it may be an important step for many people.
You may be treated with both medication and psychotherapy through your treatment plan. Individual and group therapy sessions are common. And behavioral therapies are among the most common types of psychotherapy in addiction treatment.