Prepared by: Nicole Filiberti, LSW
In a world full of issues that makes turning on the evening news a sad event, the opioid epidemic taking place in our country is surely going to make the list. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids are a class of drugs which, unlike other classes, includes both the legal or prescribed, and illegal kinds.
Unfortunately, New Jersey knows the pain of this epidemic a little too well. According to the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General, there have been a recorded 1,138 overdose deaths in the state since January 1st 2018 (njcares.gov). Many studies on the topic have been conducted or are in the process of being carried out by experts across the nation. There are also a great deal of initiatives taking place right here in New Jersey to stop the increasing statistics.
Our teens are especially at risk because heroin is available and it’s “affordable”. With their still developing brains, they are likely to become addicted and not likely to access treatment.
Opioids By Name
We know these as prescription pain killers and there is a high physical and emotional addiction to them – they include: oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine. There is also a synthetic opioid called fentanyl. Oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine can be addictive both physically and emotionally.
To get technical, opioids derive from the opium poppy plant and have both relaxing and pain relieving effects on the body. These effects can be very helpful to people suffering with pain, but are also the reason people use and abuse these substances for non-medical purposes.
Opioids bind to and activate opioid receptors that are located in cells all over the brain. This process results in the body feeling less pain and sense of euphoria. This is where the emotional addiction kicks in. There is also a significant amount of dopamine released throughout the body when someone uses opioids. This process is what strongly reinforces taking the drug repeatedly, as the user begins continuously craving that feeling. (drugabuse.gov)
Training Our Medical Providers
NJ Cares was launched in February of this year to address this issue. It uses a team approach involving law enforcement officials and other agencies. Working with New Jersey police departments and Emergency Medical Technicians, NJ Cares provides these individuals with support and resources to help identify as well as provide assistance for people addicted to opioids. One of these resources is the usage of Statewide Opioid Response Teams (ORT), which is a 24/7 program in which crisis intervention is provided for individuals who are addicted to opioids.
Mental health advocates, substance abuse recovery advocates, and EMTs will work together with police officers to provide support and referrals to treatment programs for those who need them. Also, part of the ORT program is extensive training to members so they are well versed in de-escalation techniques and methods to utilize when working with those suffering from opioid addiction.
Many studies shed light on a central theme that plays a significant part in addressing this issue: doctors. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (aka SAMHSA), millions of people are prescribed opioid drugs each year to treat medical conditions that may lead to severe pain that is otherwise difficult to manage for patients. Such instances are pain following a surgery or a bone fracture. (samhsa.gov). Both SAMHSA and the CDC have launched programs that include continuing education for prescribers as well as information for patients so they can better determine if opioids are truly necessary and if so, to ensure they are continuously monitored and used appropriately.
Another key aspect of NJ Cares is its creation of a website driven by data in real time. A quick look on NJCares.gov will show site visitors information on opioid overdoses broken down by county, as well as monthly reports. This website aims to show people in real time how significant of an issue this is and to inspire individuals to have a conversation about this very real problem.
Warning Signs that Your Child May be Addicted
Sudden changes in behavior can be caused by multiple factors, but one of significance is drug use. It is important to take note of changes in your adolescent's mood and behavior, especially if they are suddenly appearing tired often or if they begin displaying a hostile attitude. The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists these other warning signs (drugabuse.gov):
- carelessness with grooming
- a change in peer group
- decline in academic performance
- missing classes or skipping school
- loss of interest in favorite activities
- changes in eating or sleeping habits
- deteriorating relationships with family members and friends
The internet brings a wealth of resources to families in need of substance abuse treatment. SAMHSA runs a helpful service locator tool which can be found at findtreatment.samhsa.gov. SAMHSA also runs a 24/7 hotline which also provides referrals to local treatment facilities as well as support groups and community based agencies. This hotline phone number is 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Once an adolescent is discharged from a rehabilitation facility, there are various treatment options available to them. Finding a therapist who has substance abuse counseling experience is key when choosing a treatment provider. Another beneficial factor to look out for is to work with a therapist who utilizes a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach to treatment. CBT helps people in recovery identify negative thought patterns which are then linked to behaviors. CBT assists people struggling with addiction by assisting them in utilizing positive coping skills in response to harmful thought patterns, leading to an increase in emotional regulation.
Reducing the stigma surrounding substance abuse can help individuals suffering from substance abuse feel comfortable seeking out assistance when it is needed. Families should be encouraged to browse this website frequently and have discussions with each other on the topic, specifically developmentally appropriate conversations with children and adolescents from parents and guardians.
The opioid epidemic is a very real problem in New Jersey. There are a few steps individuals can take, whether they are being prescribed opioid drugs or they are community members who want to help reduce the stigma. Having these conversations is vital in addressing the issue and making much needed changes to these very concerning statistics.
Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles