As we seek solutions to the opioid epidemic, it’s important to understand the true nature of addiction. Because regardless of the drug, the underlying psychology of addiction rarely changes.
The True Nature of Addiction
Addiction is an unexpected trap. It often begins innocently, with prescription painkillers after surgery, or perhaps a line of coke at a party. But the all-consuming need can quickly develop from there. And when it does — watch out!
There are also external factors to consider. Poverty and social misery, personal hardships and peer pressure can all influence the desire to experiment with powerful, mind-altering and physically harmful substances. Nobody is immune. The opioid crisis has ensnared young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural residents and people of all races, creeds and colors.
The good news is that most people who try drugs quickly recognize they might become addicted and immediately decide to quit. The bad news is many others can’t or won’t. The euphoria of pain relief or getting high is too great. The need for more quickly becomes insatiable. Tolerance increases, and with it the craving for ever stronger doses. Eventually, the drugs take over. A downward spiral ensues. Shattering lives and destroying bonds with friends, family and society-at-large. Without proper treatment, addiction can even end in overdose and death.
The Science of Addiction
“Addiction is not a moral failing,” writes Dr. Mitchell S. Rosenthal. “It happens when the morphine molecule initiates a chemical process that rewires the neural networks in the brain and renders the user a partial captive to the opioid.”
Dr. Rosenthal should know. He’s the founder and former president of Phoenix House, as well as the president of the Rosenthal Center for Addiction Studies. And the good doctor has been treating substance abuse for more than 50 years.
How to Help?
Dr. Rosenthal insists we can’t legislate our way out of the opioid crisis. We can’t incarcerate our way out of it either. That we must go above and beyond relying upon law enforcement to battle the epidemic.
“Stopping the flow of drugs is, of course, critical,” he writes. “But we must also address the needs of the substance abuser and the overall trajectory of addiction.”
Rosenthal advocates for an increase in harm-reduction programs. Needle-exchange sites can help reduce overdoses, especially those that test for fentanyl. He also calls for increase availability of overdose antidotes such as naloxone. In Dayton, he cites, opioid overdose deaths declined nearly 50 percent in 2018 after each of its police officers was given a naloxone kit.
But those programs are simply aimed at keeping substance abusers alive. The next and most crucial step is getting addicts into appropriate treatment. Treatment marks the start of a healing process, writes Rosenthal. And it is only through treatment that an addict can return to any semblance of normalcy.
Is it easy? No. Battling drug addiction is never easy. Most substance abusers resist treatment, exit too soon, and relapse frequently. Treatment is also often accompanied by anxiety and depression, especially at the beginning. Yet combining medications such as methadone and buprenorphine with group therapy and counseling can make a tremendous difference. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) improves retention and results, writes Rosenthal. It’s that simple.
Unfortunately, less than 10 percent of the estimated 21.7 million individuals in need of substance abuse treatment receive it. That figure includes two million opioid users. Rosenthal believes this treatment gap will likely lead to the millennium’s millionth overdose death by 2021.
Fighting addiction is an ongoing challenge. Fighting the nature of addiction will be equally challenging. But we have the tools and the resources. We also have the awareness. But in order to successfully fight opioid use disorder (OUD) we must commit to a coherent, compassionate and well-funded national anti-drug strategy on a scale equivalent to the enormity of the drug problem itself.
That’s where ALEF Opioid Addiction Treatment Centers enters into the picture. ALEF is fully committed to fighting opioid use disorder. We employ the latest Medication-Assisted Treatment protocols. And we provide the most comprehensive, evidence-backed addiction treatment available. Why? Because the opioid crisis demands effective solutions. And ALEF is set on being an integral provider of solutions. Life is too precious to do otherwise.