In the U.S., drug overdoses are the number one killer of
people who are 50 years old or younger. Although marijuana, cocaine, and
methamphetamines are some of the most commonly abused drugs in the Cobb County
region, heroin and other opioids have topped the list. Within recent years,
opioids have become the primary cause of death for those 35 or younger. These
statistics hit particularly close to home for Georgia residents as opioid
overdoses have increased an astonishing 1000% in the last ten years.
Opioid is the blanket term used to describe both opiates
derived from the opium poppy (ex. morphine, codeine, heroin, and opium) and
synthetic drugs (ex. methadone, oxycodone, Vicodin, Percocet, and Dilaudid). When
used responsibly and as prescribed by a physician, opioids attach to receptors
in the brain and are meant to assist in pain management. However, the abuse and
addiction rate of opioids in the U.S. is far-reaching and growing exponentially.
Opioids don’t discriminate by gender, age, race, or socio-economic status, and
sadly, it often begins with opioid painkillers.
In 2016, Cobb County had the second highest number of
overdose deaths in the entire state, only surpassed by neighboring Fulton
County, which has one of the highest opioid overdose rates in the entire
nation. In 2014, Cobb County reported 10.1 – 12 drug-related deaths per 100,000
people, only slightly lower than Fulton and Cherokee Counties (12.1 – 14 per
100,000). One culprit to the high rate of opioid overdoses is the recent
introduction of the drug Fentanyl to the region. Because it is easier and
cheaper to manufacture, opioids are sometimes cut with Fentanyl, which is
similar to morphine, but 50 times more potent. For this reason, Georgia has
seen a marked spike in both opioid overdoses and deaths. The difficulties of
Fulton County and the surrounding metro areas have been chronicled on the
A show Intervention and provide a glimpse to the rest of the
nation of how dire this situation is in the “heroin triangle.” The city of
Kennesaw and surrounding neighborhoods of Deerfield, Summerbrooke, and Abington
Green haven’t been immune to the devastation that opioids can inflict.
However, the Kennesaw community has been a pioneer in
fighting this epidemic. Three years ago, in an effort to minimize the number of
deaths from opioid overdoses, Kennesaw State University was the first
university in Georgia to arm the campus police force with naloxone, the
antidote that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Faculty, staff, students,
and others affiliated with the campus have also been trained to use this life
saving kit. But there is still much work that needs to be done.
If you, your spouse, partner, sibling, child, friend, or co-worker is struggling with addiction,
you are not alone. There are resources to help those in need navigate
their way through addiction. Here is a snapshot of what to expect in the
The initial assessment begins with a phone call or visit to
a treatment facility. Although each treatment program is unique, many
facilities use the Addiction Severity Index (ASI) to help determine the need
for treatment. Experts are looking for signs of crisis (those who need immediate
attention), risk factors, and potential barriers to successful treatment.
Additionally, experts help potential patients to make an informed decision
about their own treatment. It’s important to note that there may be a waiting
period for programs that are currently at-capacity.
Admission and Intake
After the decision is made to enter treatment, patients will
go through a formal intake process, which often includes providing a detailed medical
and treatment history as well as having physical and psychological evaluations.
Patients can expect to provide information about drugs of choice, method of
drug use (smoking, snorting, injecting, etc.), frequency of use, and known or
potential infectious diseases such as sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis,
HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis. Often, new patients are required to take a drug test
and submit bloodwork. Being armed with this information will help the medical
staff suggest the best method of treatment for new patients.
Treatment from addiction involves a detoxification process,
which is important for eliminating the harmful chemicals within the body. As
with any addiction, there is a withdrawal period as the body detoxifies. After drug
use has stopped, patients may initially experience muscle aches, anxiety,
sweating, and a rapid pulse. As the withdrawal symptoms peak, patients may
experience nausea, stomach issues (ex. cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea),
depression, and cravings.
Depending upon the facility and the patient’s needs, there
are different methods of detoxification:
Severe withdrawal is often a catalyst for relapse and for
this reason, some patients choose to participate in a program that offers medical
detoxification. Doctors will prescribe medication to help patients move through
painful withdrawal symptoms. With opioid addiction, the most common types of
medication used in a medical detox are:
This type of method is referred to
as Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT) where patients are given a daily dose
of methadone, a synthetic opioid to help counteract the withdrawal symptoms. Methadone
works by linking with opiate receptors in the brain, which lessens withdrawals
symptoms without the “high” that opioids create. Unlike heroin or other opioids,
the effects of methadone last 24 hours. Over a period of time, the amount of
methadone administered is decreased, with the ultimate goal of being opioid-free.
Similar to methadone,
buprenorphine, commonly known as Suboxone, fits into opiate receptors in the
brain, eliminating the withdrawal symptoms without the euphoric high. This
prescription medication is administered by pill and dissolved under the tongue.
Suboxone also contains the drug naloxone, which is used to prevent abuse of the
buprenorphine. When this medication is injected instead of dissolved under the
tongue, it creates withdrawal symptoms. Subutex is another form of
buprenorphine, but does not contain naloxone, and may be prescribed for those
who are pregnant or have an allergy to this particular medication. The effects
of buprenorphine are long-lasting and those prescribed this medication will
take it daily or once every two days depending on doctor recommendations.
Naltrexone also works by blocking opiate
receptors in the brain. In addition to counteracting opiate withdrawal
symptoms, this medication also helps treat alcohol dependence by reducing the
effects normally felt with alcohol. Naltrexone is either administered by pill
or an injection of Vivitrol. Naltrexone pills must be taken daily while the injection
is time-released and lasts for 30 days.
Not to be confused with medical detox, medically supervised detox
involves licensed medical staff closely monitoring a patient’s detoxification
process. Depending on the facility, medically supervised detox programs may
employ either natural methods or use prescription medication to alleviate the
symptoms of withdrawal while monitoring a patient’s vitals and level of
A natural detoxification process, which is supervised by
licensed medical professionals, is also considered a type medically supervised
detox. Natural detox focuses on allowing the body to go through the withdrawal
process naturally. Herbal remedies and over-the-counter, non-addictive
medication may be used, but this type of detox doesn’t use any prescription
medication. Patients can expect to be closely monitored by doctors and nurses
to ensure their vitals are stable and help address any other medical issues
that may arise. The philosophy behind this method is that feeling the effects
of withdrawal may serve as a deterrent in the future.
Rapid detoxification involves putting patients into a
medically-induced sleep state and administering medication that accelerates the
detoxification process while eliminating the awareness of withdrawal symptoms.
There is much debate about this type of treatment. Advocates believe that this
method helps people move through the most challenging part of withdrawal, while
opponents argue that the rate of relapse is greater with rapid detox because
there are no negative withdrawal symptoms to serve as a deterrent.
Think of treatment as a chain – depending on needs, each
patient will begin on a certain rung. Each subsequent rung is meant to move
patients closer and closer to individually managing their addiction. Treatment falls
into three broad categories: inpatient, intensive outpatient, and outpatient.
After the intake process, medical professionals will help patients determine
the best option.
Inpatient treatment involves a patient residing in a
facility for a specified amount of time, which can range from a few weeks to
several months. This occurs in either a residential treatment center, where
patients receive psychological, emotional, and medical support to work through
their addiction. Patients are often supported by a team of doctors, nurses, therapists,
and other trained healthcare professionals. The environment is highly
controlled to allow patients to focus on their recovery.
In some cases, medical personnel may recommend a partial
hospitalization program (PHP). A PHP is
designed for those that have either completed a residential program or those who
have demonstrated they do not need around-the-clock care of a residential
program. Those enrolled in PHP participate in highly structured in-house
therapies and activities several days during the week, but return home in the
evening. PHP provides the high level of support of an in-patient program, but
offers the flexibility of an outpatient program. Those enrolled in a PHP can
expect to commit approximately five hours five days a week of their time.
Intensive Outpatient Programs
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP), similar to PHP, are the
intersection of inpatient and outpatient treatment. Those enrolled in intensive
outpatient programs will attend in-house sessions, receive one-on-one
counseling, and be given medication if needed. IOP participants can expect to
commit approximately three hours three days a week, which is less time required
than PHP. Those enrolled in an IOP may receive one-on-one counseling sessions
from medical professionals in addition to group therapy sessions.
Outpatient treatment offers the most flexibility of all
treatment programs as patients are allowed to continue with their daily
responsibilities such as work, but are required to check in at a treatment
facility during regularly scheduled times. Outpatient treatment varies greatly,
but can include personal counseling, group sessions, medication oversight, and other
Aftercare is a term relative to where treatment begins. For
example, if a patient begins with inpatient treatment, part of their aftercare
may include outpatient treatment. Completing a recommended treatment plan is an
important milestone in the recovery process, but patients should also plan for
long-term success. Participating in aftercare programs is highly recommended as
it reduces the chances for relapse. Those in recovery will work closely with their
treatment facility to find an aftercare program that best suits their needs. Aftercare
programs vary greatly in time commitment and services, but are often focused on
group therapy, individual growth, and self-efficacy. Some types of aftercare
programs that patients may consider:
12-Step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics
Anonymous provide a safe and supportive environment for those in recovery. These group sessions are confidential and
provide participants with the tools to work through “steps” of recovery. Almost
75% of treatment centers utilize 12-step programs in their treatment of
patients. To find a meeting near you: https://www.na.org/meetingsearch/.
Those in recovery may also choose to work with a mental
health professional to address any barriers to sobriety. Counseling may be
conducted with either a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist, preferably with
drug and alcohol counseling experience. Therapists may employ behavioral,
cognitive, or a combination of therapeutic approaches during sessions.
Group Therapy and
Sharing some of the same components of a 12-step program,
group therapy and support groups can help provide emotional support for those
in recovery. Participants are placed in a group with others struggling with the
same addiction issues and will normally work with a trained therapist leading
regularly scheduled sessions.
Sober living facilities are meant to bridge the gap between
residential treatment centers to living on one’s own. These substance and
alcohol-free homes are shared by individuals who are also in recovery. Those in
sober living homes often participate in multiple forms of aftercare such as
12-step programs, group therapy sessions, and individual counseling.