The years-long opioid epidemic in the United States has created struggles with opioid use disorder here in South Florida and the Sunshine State overall. While Florida officials have been fighting the opioid epidemic for years, there are concerns about it worsening under the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine restrictions that started in spring 2020.
The Sun-Sentinel reports that some recovery advocates expect higher rates of overdose deaths in 2020 and have seen more demand for treatment and Narcan, the life-saving antidote used in opioid overdoses. Overdose deaths have long been a problem in Florida.
Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), opioids were involved in nearly 68% of opioid-related drug overdoses in Florida in 2018. These deaths involved the illegal opioid drug heroin, illegally made fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, and prescription opioids.
Efforts to reduce and prevent opioid overdoses are still in effect, and treatment is available for people who want to address their opioid use disorder.
Opioid Use Disorder (OUD): What Is It?
A person has opioid use disorder (OUD) when they struggle to stop using opioids despite the negative effects that doing so has on their physical and mental health. As the American Psychiatric Association explains, OUD is a chronic, lifelong condition that could result in relapse, disability, and death. Opioids can be natural or human-made, and they are used to treat varying levels of pain.
These drugs include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids, and prescription pain relievers. Both kinds interact with the body’s opioid receptors, which changes how the user perceives pain. They also cause sleepiness, euphoria, and relaxation, which makes some people abuse them. High doses of opioids can depress breathing, causing someone to lose consciousness.
Examples of opioids include pain medications such as oxycodone (OxyContin), codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), and morphine, among others. Synthetic opioids are fentanyl, methadone, tramadol, and others. Illegally made fentanyl is often added to heroin and cocaine, and in some cases, marijuana to make the substances stronger. It also makes these drugs riskier to use and deadlier. Fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin.
Opioid Addiction Treatment Options in South Florida
While opioid use disorder or addiction is a lifelong condition that requires treatment, the good news is that it can be treated. Some people who seek to end OUD end up relapsing because of invasive cravings that make it difficult to stop using. The start-and-stop cycle of quitting and using can lead to a relapse that could end in overdose or death, which is why it is critical for someone to get help for this disorder.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can be used to treat OUD as well as alcohol use disorder (AUD). It helps people either end or reduces their dependence on opioids. Candidates for this kind of program include:
- People recovering from chronic heroin use and prescription drugs containing opiate ingredients
- People who chronically relapse while trying to end their use of opiate medications or heroin
MAT’s Goal Is to Treat the “Whole Person”
A MAT program aims to address the “whole person,” and not just the physical addiction. There’s more to addiction than just the part of using substances. Generally, MAT participants receive medications while attending behavioral therapy and counseling that help them address the mental and emotional effects of their substance use, as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shares.
MAT programs provide several benefits for people looking to recover from OUD. It aims to:
- Guide best practices on opioid withdrawal, making it safer and more manageable
- Help people recovering from OUD manage opioid cravings
- Assist with learning effective and helpful strategies to cope with triggers that could lead to using substances again
- Lower one’s chance of having a relapse
- Engage individuals to remain committed to their recovery goals
FDA Has Approved Medications Used in MAT
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also expressed support for MAT programs to treat and help prevent opioid overdose. It also has approved specific medications for use in these programs. They are:
Buprenorphine: This opioid partial agonist medication produces weaker effects than full opioid agonists, such as heroin. Using buprenorphine as prescribed is said to be safe and effective, per SAMHSA. It helps to reduce opioid dependence, particularly cravings and the effects of opioid withdrawal.
Naltrexone: Per SAMHSA, this medication is not an opioid, and it is not addictive. It works to block the euphoric and sedative effects of heroin, morphine, and codeine. It also suppresses cravings for these drugs.
Methadone: This long-acting full opioid agonist is also used to reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal. It also blocks or lessens the effects of stronger opioids. Patients can receive this drug only through an authorized practitioner. If a person has been cleared to take the medication at home, they must not share it with anyone else.
Medications Can Be Given During Medical Detox or Throughout Treatment
SAMHSA writes that MAT medications are safe to use for the long term. If a person wishes to stop using any of these medications, they should consult with a doctor first.
They can be given to patients in the medical detox phase of a treatment program or throughout a MAT recovery program. According to SAMHSA, MAT medications can do several things, including:
- Returning patients’ brain chemistry to normal
- Blocking the euphoric effects of stronger opioids and alcohol
- Relieving drug cravings
Medications are used in MAT to help recovering opioid users find relief from drug withdrawals and drug cravings, which can be challenging to manage on their own and without medical help. These medications block the effects of more potent opioids, which makes it easier for people in recovery to address their health and well-being while attending therapy and counseling.
Avoiding Relapse Is Critical Goal
MAT participants also learn how to recognize and manage drug cravings and effectively address urges to use substances so that they can avoid the relapse scenario. People receiving medication-assisted treatment also agree to be regularly monitored to ensure they remain on track and make progress in their recovery. They also receive help finding employment and agree to other measures put into place to support their desire to live substance-free.
There has been criticism from some that MAT programs encourage people recovering from OUD to trade one chemical dependency for another when they use drugs to treat their disorder. While the medications used can be abused, as any medication can, SAMHSA says, “MAT programs provide a safe and controlled level of medication to overcome the use of an abused opioid.”
MAT Has Received Support in Florida, Too
Florida has taken measures over the years to address the opioid crisis in the state. In 2018, it implemented a prescription drug monitoring program to track the number of opioid prescriptions written by doctors. Also, the State Opioid Response Project (SOR) aims to provide medication-assisted treatment services as well as best practices based on science that aid substance abuse recovery. SOR also aims to expand the distribution and training of Narcan® (naloxone) to help reverse opioid overdoses.
End Opioid Use Dependence Today at The Palm Beach Institute
If you or a loved one is interested in receiving medication-assisted treatment in South Florida, The Palm Beach Institute in West Palm Beach, FL, can show you what treatment options are available in this kind of therapy and can help you determine if a MAT program is right for you. Depending on how far along your dependence on opioids is, you could start your recovery program in our residential treatment program or another setting here in our facility.
Call today to speak with our team. We want to help you get the treatment you need to leave opioid use disorder behind for the new life you want.