If nothing else, the recent opioid epidemic in America has shined a bright light on the dangers of drug abuse and addiction. The US citizenry is besieged by the same drugs that attacked the nation in days gone past. That's a reference to substances like heroin, cocaine, and the ever-present alcohol. The nation is also dealing with a new list of illicit substances like fentanyl, drugs that are doing significant damage to drug users, and society in general.
If it was merely a matter of battling addictions, the nation's top drug and alcohol treatment organizations could just call in reinforcements for the battle. Unfortunately, there's something much more insidious plaguing the nation. The number of drug overdoses and overdoses that are leading to deaths is on the rise. Let's take a look at the data.
The Truth About Drug Overdose Deaths in America
According to a survey completed by the Centers for Disease Controlfor the year ended 2017, slightly more than 70,000 Americans lost their lives as a result of a drug overdose. To give that number perspective, that's a 9.6% increase over the numbers reported for 2016. To make clear which substance is the main villain in the story, 47,600 of the 2017 overdose deaths were caused by opioids. By the time numbers are reported for the two subsequent years, it's reasonable to expect there will be another significant rise in the numbers.
How long can Americans sustain these losses without ramping up efforts to combat the drug abuse problem in the US?
Just How Does a Drug Overdose Occur?
Keep in mind, the numbers stated above are the US overdose death numbers. It's safe to assume that hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people have been victimized by an overdose, though able to survive the ordeal.
It brings to mind that there might be value in discussing how people drive their drug abuse to the point it puts their lives at risk. Generally, there are three ways that people end up in the grips of an overdose. They include:
- First-time users who are unaware of what risks they are taking
- Users who begin using more often to stay in their high
- Users who continually increase doses until the abuse reaches toxic levels
Let's discuss this further.
First Time Users Unaware of Their Actions
When an inexperienced drug user finally put themselves into a position to start using harmful substances in ways not intended, they have no way of knowing how their bodies are going to react to the introduction of a substance into their system. It's one thing to smoke marijuana and decide it's okay to take a hit of cocaine. Unfortunately, some people take terrible risks.
Think about the inexperienced heroin user who starts following the steps of a heroin user with a significant addiction. It wouldn't be much of a stretch for the inexperienced heroin user to assume the right amount to take for the right high is the amount their buddy is taking. What they have no way of understanding is how the addiction sufferer's body has been conditioned to metabolize otherwise dangerous levels of a hazardous substance.
It happens. The inexperienced user takes that first hit or two of heroin, and the dose simply overwhelms their body. The next thing they realize is they are fighting for their life because of a heroin overdose. This particular circumstance has undoubtedly played a vital role in the rash of fentanyl overdose death that has been killing people for several years now. Fentanyl has the same properties as heroin with one caveat; the substance is as much as ten times more potent. Any attempt to use the same amount of fentanyl as someone was using heroin is a formula for absolute disaster.
Users Who Increase Abuse Frequency
Severe drug users abuse substances for particular reasons. Most of the time, they are trying to shield themselves from personal pain. Every time they take a hit of their substance of choice, they are looking for the desired effect. That's the trap drugs and alcohol lay for people.
“Most of the time, they are trying to shield themselves from personal pain”Tweet
As a user starts out using X amount to get Y effect, their body will almost immediately begin building up a dependence on the substance. As that dependency builds, the effects of a dose will lessen. Many times that will result in the drug user taking hits a little more often to maintain the high they are seeking. As the abuse increase, a drug user can lose track of when they took their last dose. The impact of putting too much of a dangerous substance in the body is too short of a period will more often than not set the table for an overdose.
Users Who increase Doses
Working under the premise that a drug user is looking for the desired effect, they are addiction sufferers who will choose to simply increase doses as opposed to taking their drug of choice more often. The dangers of this approach are well documented.
The body can only metabolize a certain amount of drugs or alcohol at a certain time. Once the drug user breaches those levels, the substance becomes toxic to the user's body. Once that toxicity hits certain levels, the body will fall into overdose mode. This is where a lot of deaths happen. The overdose levels can come so abruptly that there's little to no time remaining for someone to act and try to save the victim.
What makes drug overdose by large doses all the more troubling is sometimes, it is done intentionally. Yes, suicide by intentional drug overdose is still a significant problem. If an intentional drug overdose doesn't lead to death, one has to hope someone will understand what had just taken place and take steps to intervene immediately.
The Drug Overdose Solution
In the current drug abuse epidemic environment, nothing seems to be working as far as curtailing drug abuse. Unfortunately, the nation is seeing drug users encouraged to keep raising the bar of drug abuse into hazardous levels. If education and government intervention aren't helping, what's the answer?
The last line of defense against drug abuse and overdose deaths is addiction treatment. The addiction treatment community has taken on the role of trying to get addiction sufferers off drugs and alcohol and into recovery.
This has required the development of new and better ways to treat substance abuse. The traditional treatment methods of yesteryear have proven to be ineffective, as evidenced by 70% relapse rates. What is working is the implementation of evidence-based therapies and holistic treatment methods.
The addiction treatment focus has shifted from treating the addiction to treating the causes of the addiction. The newer treatment, as mentioned above, options seek to isolate the root causes of each addiction sufferer's addiction. By separating the negative thoughts and feelings an addict is carrying, it becomes easier to help them develop the coping skills they will need to "just say no." The addition of holistic therapies then gives therapists a way to address the addiction sufferer's overall spiritual, mental, and physical health.
The only reliable way to avoid an overdose is not to abuse drugs or alcohol. After that, the recognition of overdose symptoms by someone nearby might be the only chance an overdose victim has for survival. As a nation, awareness of the problem we are facing would undoubtedly be a step in the right direction.