Opioid addiction is an insidious disease that shows no favoritism. Anyone who is prescribed a painkiller following surgery or an accident is vulnerable to becoming dependent on the drug, rich or poor, young or old. No one goes to the pharmacy to fill a prescription after having their wisdom teeth pulled intending to end up a heroin addict. But sadly, heroin addiction following prescriptions for opioids is not uncommon.
Synthetic opioids have basically the same effect on brain chemistry and the reward system as heroin. If someone becomes addicted to the pain pills, which can happen in as few as two weeks of consistent use of the prescription medication, they will begin to feel withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug. Eventually, the prescribing doctor will not approve a future refill and the individual now has to find alternative sources for the opioid.
When someone is addicted to opioids they go to great lengths to obtain the drug. They may steal it from people’s medicine cabinets. They may go doctor shopping, hoping to get a new prescription from a different physician. They may order the drugs online or buy them on the street, risking the chance of ingesting a counterfeit that is really deadly fentanyl. Or, they turn to heroin, a cheaper, more potent, and readily available alternative to the opioid.
Why Heroin Addiction Following Prescription Opioids is So Prevalent
The United States has become a nation of pill poppers. Beginning in the early 2000s, doctors began prescribing synthetic opioids under the false premise conveyed by the pharmaceutical companies that drugs like OxyContin were not addictive. Doctors leapt at the idea of instant pain relief for patients that would not pose the risk of addiction. Little did they know.
Over the ensuing decade the country suddenly had a spike in heroin addiction and overdose deaths. Where heroin had become a fringe relic from the 1970s, it was now invading all walks of life, and especially jumped up in upscale, suburban enclaves. Eventually, it was understood that many of the individuals who were addicted to heroin had initially been using opioids, either legitimately via a doctor’s prescription or abusing the drugs recreationally via illicit sources.
In reality, opioid pain medications are extremely addictive, and doctors over-prescribing these drugs were an intrinsic part of the problem. Sadly, the connection was made too late to save many who had already died from a heroin addiction following prescription drugs.
Signs of Opioid Dependency or Addiction
While the signs and symptoms of opioid abuse or addiction vary by individual, there are some common signs that someone has an opioid problem. These include physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms such as:
- Dry mouth
- Chronic constipation
- Impaired vision
- Marks on veins on arms or legs
- Decreased appetite
- Increased energy
- Constricted pupils
- Sleep disturbances
- Elevated blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Isolating behavior, withdrawing from friends and family
- Loss of interest in once important activities
- Declining work or academic performance
- Obsessed about obtaining more of the drug
- Financial problems
- Legal problems
- Relationship problems
- May develop a poly-substance use disorder
- Increased tolerance to the drug, needing more and more
- Try to quit taking the drug but can’t
- Depression, suicide ideation
Heroin Withdrawal symptoms
One of the first signs of heroin or opioid addiction becomes evident when the individual attempts to stop using the drug and within hours is experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Opioid or heroin withdrawal symptoms, while usually not life-threatening, are so highly unpleasant that anticipating them deters many people who need addiction treatment from seeking it. To successfully complete heroin detoxification and make it into treatment a medically monitored detox program is recommended. Without the medical and psychological support of a trained detox team, the individual is likely to relapse back to drug use in order to avoid enduring the withdrawal symptoms.
A medical detox program provides the necessary medications that can ease symptoms enough to get the individual through the entire detox process. Interventions include help for the flu-like symptoms, nausea, diarrhea, muscle pain, and insomnia. In addition, some individuals will utilize medication-assisted treatment, with drugs, such as Suboxone or methadone, that act as a step down from heroin and help support recovery by reducing cravings for the first challenging year. These drugs are not for every client, but some do find they help to avoid relapse.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Intense drug cravings
- Muscle and joint pain
- Stomach distress
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bone pain
Each individual will experience withdrawal differently, based on such factors as the length of history using heroin, the amount of heroin regularly used, the method of ingestion, co-occurring mental health disorders, and general health status.
Treatment for Heroin Addiction Following Prescription Painkillers
Once the medical detox has been completed, the individual is ready to fully participate in addiction treatment programming. This can be obtained through either an inpatient program or an intensive outpatient program (IOP). An inpatient rehab is appropriate for more entrenched addictions, as there is 24-hour monitoring and daytime schedules are filled with therapeutic activities. Inpatient programs are also a better option for those who do not have a supportive home environment.
IOP programming allows the individual to remain in their home, or stay in sober living, outside of treatment activities and therapy. This provides more flexibility for people who need to continue working while in treatment. An IOP may involve from 9-15 hours of programming, at least for the first month until recovery benchmarks are met. An IOP is also a less expensive rehab option if the individual opts to reside at their home versus sober living.
Phoenix Rising Behavioral Healthcare Intensive Outpatient Program Orange County
Phoenix Rising Behavioral provides expert outpatient treatment for heroin addiction following prescription opioids. The dedicated clinical team understands how difficult a heroin addiction is to overcome and provides the most effective evidence-based addiction treatment protocols available. Using a multi-disciplinary integrated approach, the therapists access proven behavioral therapies, 12-step programming, and adjunctive therapies to help clients successfully free themselves from the grip of heroin and opioids.
Phoenix Rising Behavioral offers evening programming to provide more scheduling options, as well as sober living resources for those who prefer an additional layer of accountability and support. For more information about our top-rated program, please contact Phoenix Rising today at (877) 299-5694.