Opioid Addiction: What You Need to Know

September 12, 2017

When a loved one develops an opioid addiction – whether it’s a family member, spouse or friend – it’s not always easy to know what to do or where to go for help.

The numbers are alarming: Since 2010, there have been 333 deaths from opioid overdose in Genesee County, and in 2015 there were 1,275 deaths from opioid overdose statewide. Opioid overdose is also the leading cause of death in Americans under the age of 50 and an estimated 36 million people suffer from opioid addiction worldwide.

Opioid addiction can happen to anyone, even when you least expect it. We, at the Genesee Health Plan, want to make sure residents are aware of the opioid crisis and the resources available to the community that can help reduce and prevent opioid addiction. We recently spoke with Patty Wagenhofer-Rucker, Integrated Health Director for the Genesee Community Health Center (GCHC), to learn more about opioid addiction, available community resources and ways to help loved ones suffering from addiction.

What is opioid addiction?
Opioids – also known as opiates – are a type of drug designed to relieve severe pain. Opioids include prescription pain killers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and fentanyl. This drug class also includes heroin, which is a recreational drug that relieves pain and induces euphoria, and is cheaper and easier to access than prescription pain killers.

Opioids interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brain and nervous system, releasing pain relieving effects. When a person uses opioids beyond what their doctor prescribes, to relieve pain or enjoy the euphoric feelings released from the drug, it can result in physical dependence. This means when the individual stops taking the pain killer, he or she experiences withdrawal symptoms.

Opioid addiction occurs when an individual develops addictive behavior for opioids and cannot control their cravings. It is a chronic, neurological disease that results in impaired control over the drug and can negatively impact an individual’s health, relationships, jobs and home life and can result in death.

Signs and symptoms to look for
Opioid addiction can happen to anyone and at first the signs can be very subtle. Those who suffer from opioid addiction often still go to work, church or attend their child’s soccer games. However, the longer someone is addicted to opioids, the stronger the signs become. According to Addiction.com, signs include:

  • Drowsiness
  • A change in sleeping habits
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Frequent flu-like symptoms including nausea and headache
  • Weight loss
  • Changes in energy levels
  • Loss of relationships
  • Change in work habits

“People who use substances excessively usually attempt to control their use or want to reduce it, and sometimes people think about controlling it but never actually try,” said Wagenhofer-Rucker. “People suffering from opioid addiction spend a lot of their time trying to find their next high. When the addiction is at a heightened level, most of their days’ activities usually revolve around getting the drug. This is at the expense of family and friends and they usually spend their time with other people who are using.”

How to get help
There are several local and regional community resources available for individuals and families affected by opioid addiction, including the Genesee Community Health Center.

According to Wagenhofer-Rucker, the Genesee Community Health Center offers hope for individuals with addiction. They offer medication assisted treatment including Vivitrol and Suboxone for individuals who are alcohol and/or opiate dependent. Vivitrol is a medication that completely blocks the action of opioids. Suboxone is another medication that eases withdrawal symptoms and reduces opioid cravings. Care is provided by a team of GCHC staff including a physician, nurse practitioner, social worker and health coach.

“There are multiple pathways to recovery, but everyone needs to find their own path,” said Wagenhofer-Rucker. “If the person wants help, then that’s easy and you can support them in getting what they need by going to a support group meeting, getting into treatment, talking to a clergy member or counselor, or talking with a family member or recovery coach.”

Additional resources for individuals and families impacted by opioid addiction include the Genesee County Families Against Narcotics, Genesee Health System, Flint Area Narcotics Anonymous and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Addictions.com has a 24/7 hotline that individuals can call at (800) 654-0987.

To learn more about opioid addiction, watch our WNEM TV5 Health Yes! segment that aired on Aug. 24 featuring the Genesee Community Health Center. If a loved one or someone you know has been affected by opioid addiction or needs assistance, please call the Genesee Community Health Center at (810) 496-5777.

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