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5 Harsh Facts About Washington’s Opioid Epidemic

U.S. is facing a major opioid epidemic. In 2015, 2.6 million Americans age 12 and up were diagnosed with an opioid abuse disorder. Of these 2.6 million Americans, over 2 million were addicted to prescription opioids, like Oxycodone. 591,000 others were addicted to heroin. Unfortunately, statistics show that these numbers are on the rise. Each year, more Americans fall into the depths of addiction. Washington State, in particular, is one of the many places facing an opioid epidemic. Opioid abuse has a devastating effect on its population.

Which states have the worst drug problem?

While WA State has a horrible opioid addiction problem, it’s surprisingly not the state with the worst drug problem. Washington only ranks 19th in terms of drug use. The top 5 most highly affected states with the worst drug problem include:

  1. District of Columbia
  2. Colorado
  3. Rhode Island
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Vermont

The 5 states with the highest amount of opioid prescriptions per 1,000 people include Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma. Still, the effects of opioid addiction should not be overlooked in Washington State. To get a better idea on the consequences of opioid abuse in WA State, take a look at these 5 harsh facts.

#1: In 2015, 718 residents living in Washington died from an opioid overdose.

The total amount of opioid overdose deaths in WA have remained quite stagnant since 2008. The main difference lies in the amount of prescription opioid overdoses versus heroin overdoses. Prescription opioid overdoses have declined through the years. On the other hand, heroin overdoses have increased. In 2015, there were 415 prescription opioid overdoses and 313 heroin overdoses. In 2008, 577 and 73 overdoses were caused by prescription drugs and heroin, respectively.

What are Opioid Drugs?

Opioids block pain, and have an anti-depressive and anti-anxiety effect on the user. The drug attaches to cell receptors in the brain to activate a cascade of chemical reactions. Quite a few different types of drugs classify as opioids. Popular prescription opioids abused in Washington State include:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Opium
  • Oxycodone
  • Morphine

Prescription opiates are prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe pain. It is often prescribed after surgery or for complicated health conditions like cancer. Synthetic opioids tend to be more potent than street drugs. As a result, there’s a higher danger of a lethal overdose, and the drugs are much more addictive. Prescriptions for opioids have increased drastically in the past 25 years. In 1991, only 76 million prescriptions were given out to patients. That number jumped to over 200 million by 2013. As synthetic opioids are very addictive, many patients have a difficult time quitting. They, then, turn to illegal street drugs, which are often more accessible and cheaper. Common street opioids include:

  • Heroin
  • Krokodil

Krokodil is an even cheaper replacement for heroin. Dealers cook it in a similar way to meth. Unfortunately, this drug is much more toxic and deadly than any other opioid on the streets. It causes an array of long-term health complications, like:

  • Blood vessel infections
  • Open ulcers
  • Skin infections
  • Gangrene
  • Limb amputations
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood poisoning

The average lifespan of krokodil users is only a mere two years. In comparison, the average lifespan of a heroin user is approximately 15 years.

Opioid vs. Opiate

Many people interchange the term ‘opioid’ and ‘opiate’. While similar, they are not the same. Let’s clarify any misunderstanding before we proceed. Opioids are synthetic pain medications. The active ingredients are chemically synthesized. They include drugs like oxycodone and methadone. Opiates, on the other hand, are alkaloids derived from opium poppy. Different types of opiates include morphine, heroin and codeine. These two types of drugs both have a calming effect on the body. They often also target and affect the same chemical cascades within the body.

#2: Heroin overdoses are on the rise in Washington State.

Among all of the various overdoses caused by opioid drugs, heroin overdoses are consistently on the rise in not only WA, but across the country. Heroin deaths rose by 60% in Seattle alone, and signs of heroin use is evident in downtown Seattle and in Tacoma. It’s also one of the top 5 drugs abused in Washington State. The overdose risk for this drug is notoriously high, and 1 in 10 users who overdose will die. Heroin is deadly due to its potency and due to the fact that it is often mixed with other deadly cutting agents. Fentanyl, for example, is often mixed with heroin. Only minute quantities of fentanyl can result in an overdose.

Mechanism Causing an Overdose from Heroin Use

Heroin overdoses are often caused when users forget to breathe. Upon injecting or snorting the narcotics, users will feel a rush of euphoria and calmness. This causes users to become sleepy. Sleeping with heroin in the body is dangerous. The respiratory system runs subconsciously in the background in usual circumstances. However, the body shuts down when there’s heroin in the system. The body forgets to breathe. Also, excess amounts of heroin negatively impacts the heart. The drug causes a quick decline in blood pressure, which may prompt it to fail. Overdoses also cause brain damage.

Signs of a Heroin Overdose

Knowing how to spot a heroin overdose is quite important among addicts. It’s also important to those who live with or know an addict. Identifying early signs of an overdose can potentially be life-saving. Commonly recognized heroin overdose signs include:

  • Shallow or slowed breathing, along with breathing difficulties
  • Dry mouth or a discolored tongue
  • Bluish lips or nails
  • Pinpointed, or small, pupils
  • Disorientation, delirium or psychosis
  • Excessive drowsiness and sleepiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse due to low blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal complications, like constipation

Seek help immediately if any of these signs appear. Medical professionals may be able to save a life if an overdose is caught early.

#3: Residents between the ages of 25 and 64 are most likely to abuse opioids.

Many Washington State residents turn to opioids to deal with stresses. Unfortunately, all classes, ages and types of people can develop an opioid dependency. The faces of opioid addiction is quite diverse. Some demographics are more susceptible than others to opioid addiction. For example, young males have a higher tendency to become addicted to oxycodone. These individuals are more likely to engage in thrill-seeking behaviors. They are also more likely to have the disposable income needed to afford the drug. Hydrocodone addicts tend to be on the opposite side of the spectrum. These addicts are usually elderly females who are likely to avoid risk. Instead of purchasing their drug of choice illegally, they are more likely to get it from family, friends and physicians. Many opioid addicts were first addicted to prescription opiates before moving onto street drugs.

#4: 38 out of 39 WA states saw an increase in opioid addiction treatment admission.

Recovery centers in Washington have their hands full with treating opioid addictions. To recommend the best approach, clinicians first assess the conditions surrounding each patient. The treatment designed is based on the type of drugs used, length of the usage and the most regularly consumed dose. A two-step approach is most effective in treating an opioid addiction. The first part of the program involves using medications to curb cravings. The second part involves altering one’s behavior and reactions to triggers. When withdrawing from opiates, most patients experience a wide range of unwanted symptoms. Common symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Irritation
  • Muscle Aches
  • Runny nose
  • Swearing

Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant. Rehab programs help deal with these symptoms. By lessening their intensity, there’s a higher chance of sobriety.

Medications Often Prescribed

Opioids cause a cascade of chemical reactions in the body. These chemical reactions cause unwanted withdrawal symptoms. Many clinicians recommend taking certain medications that help curb cravings and deal with withdrawal symptoms. This is known as Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT). Common medications include:

  • Buprenorphine, which essentially acts like an opioid to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay
  • Methadone, which is only used to block cravings although it is addictive itself
  • Naltrexone, which effectively blocks cravings and many other withdrawal symptoms

Each of these drugs act on a different chemical chain reaction in the body. As a result, they each have their own advantages.

Behavioral Counseling, Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention

Pave the road to sobriety by also preventing emotional relapses. This involves becoming aware of one’s emotions, learning how to identify triggers and high-risk situations, and building new habits to respond to stressors. There are plenty of effective exercises available. Behavioral counseling focuses on incorporating certain exercises to change one’s habits. Identifying which triggers cause strong cravings can help addicts avoid certain paths. Therapy is like chicken soup for the soul. It’s important to talk issues out with a counselor or with family members and friends to move on with life. Don’t let minor relapses or past issues prevent growth. Acknowledge them, accept them and move on. Build a strong support group. A similar approach is used in mindfulness-based relapse prevention. This type of treatment is often prescribed during initial treatment or in the aftercare program. It involves being more aware of emotions and sensations to make conscious decisions.

#5: First Responders Are Spending More on Overdose-Reversing Drugs.

To cater to the severity of the epidemic, Washington State officials responded by offering first responders more overdose-reversing drugs. The most common one is naloxone. While the name is similar to naltrexone, which is used in ORT, naloxone is quite different. Unfortunately, naloxone prices have begun to soar as demands rise.

How Do These Drugs Work?

Overdose-reversing drugs, like naloxone, reverse the effects of an opioid overdose by blocking receptors in the brain. First responders inject these drugs into the person experiencing an overdose. The drug is injected with a 22-gauge needle into the addict’s upper arm or thigh. The drug will block the opioids for anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. This reverses the effects of respiratory depression to prevent the overdose from becoming deadly.

Is Naloxone Safe?

Drugs like naloxone are completely safe. They do come with any major side effects, nor are they capable of causing an overdose. The only side effects that may be experienced are temporary withdrawal symptoms. They include aches, runny noses, diarrhea, sweating and vomiting. This is nothing compared to the dangers of an overdose. Side effects vary depending on the dosage, how long the drug was stored and the type of drug that the affected individual took. In addition, it is impossible to develop a tolerance to naloxone. As a result, this drug never loses its effectiveness. It can be used no matter how many times the affected individual may have overdosed in the past.

Face the Opioid Epidemic Head On

It’s hard to admit how large of a toll opioid addiction has had on Americans. To tackle this epidemic, it’s important to face it head on. Acknowledge the amount of pain and danger associated with an opioid addiction. Encourage addicted individuals to seek help. An addiction may seem like a hopeless downward spiral, but it doesn’t have to be the end. There are plenty of opioid addiction rehab programs and treatments out there that can help.