New Jersey is suffering from a wave of heroin and prescription pain killer abuse, but it is not a new thing like a plague or infectious agent. The abuse is a continuation of known behavior we’ve seen increase over many years — people experimenting and abusing drugs and alcohol. The difference, and the reason our kids are dying now, is in the drugs. The drugs, the combinations of drugs, and the combination of drugs and alcohol is deadlier than ever before.
At Sunrise Detox we treat those who have an acknowledged physical and/or psychological dependency on substances like heroin, opiates (Percocet, Oxycontin), and mood altering prescription drugs like Xanax. We help them break free of the addiction that is running their lives, hopefully before it destroys everything. But many of the overdose deaths are from sudden, deadly over-dosing of drugs that were of unknown purity, or were also mixed with alcohol in deadly combinations.
At some point this year, drug overdose counts in New Jersey climbed to alarming levels. Those involved with drug abuse and overdoses noted that nearly 60% of the deaths were of kids aged 20-26. It is true that some of these could have been prevented if the kids were admitted into treatment (drug detox for 10 days, followed by residential rehab or other treatment). But it is also likely that many would have died even if treatment had been arranged, because the overdose was a sudden, unexpected event. They didn’t know that last hit would kill them.
Here are some of the key reasons why over 115 New Jerseyans (most in their twenties) have died this year:
Prescription Drugs are considered Safer than Heroin
As young adults experimented with drugs, they watched doctors prescribe numerous high-potency medications for various purposes (post-surgical pain management, sports injury pain management, toothache pain, etc) and came to understand that these pain drugs were pure, controlled, and recommended by doctors. So when it came time to “take some drugs” to get high, those prescription pills were a safer bet than street drugs of unknown composition or purity.
Many who would say they would never engage in street drug activity or “shoot heroin” were willingly ingesting, snorting, or smoking crushed up prescription pills which were, in fact, almost chemically identical to heroin.
Prescription Opiates and Opioids were Readily Available for Years
Opiate and opioid prescription pain killers are highly addicting, yet were readily available for many years in New Jersey. When a physical addiction sets in, the addict must work hard to secure enough supply to stave off the sickness of withdrawal. That is why heroin addicts often turn to petty crimes so quickly… they need more and more drug to stave off withdrawal sickness, and become desperate for money to pay for the drugs.
In effect, the ready supply of powerful prescription drugs in New jersey enabled addictions to advance without some of the real-world pressures associated with drug seeking. Until…
Prescription Opiates and Opioids (Painkillers) suddenly became Scarce
As awareness of the prescription drug addiction problems grew, the controlled channels for addictive prescription pain killers shut down. The New Jersey Prescription Drug Monitoring Program shut down a lot of doctor shopping, which was a primary way to get more than an appropriate amount of a drug by prescription. Various enforcement efforts stepped up, including increased drug take-back and medicine cabinet clean out or lock up awareness campaigns. These efforts removed more drugs from easy reach. Additionally, enforcement actions taken against “over prescribers” and loosely-managed pharmacies meant the steady supply of pure, high-potency drugs was shutting off.
An unintended consequence of these positive efforts to contain the pill problem was that many unacknowledged pill addictions were left without a supply of pharmaceutical grade drugs of known, controlled dose. Then…
Enter the Heroin Dealer : Supply and Demand
Did you know that many prescription pain killers are just about chemically equivalent to heroin, the most addictive street drug? Faced with an active addiction to pills and a suddenly curtailed supply chain, what would an addicted young adult in New Jersey do?After just a day or two without drugs, the withdrawal sickness can get quite severe.
The drug dealers provided an answer: heroin. Cheaper than ever, and often stronger than ever, heroin became the only acceptable substitute for an addict in desperate need of pills to prevent sickness from withdrawal.
This is where heron detox is the right move — get into a drug detox center as withdrawal sickness threatens. When the pill supply runs out, and the money runs out, the addict faces real challenges. The only options available are much more dangerous than the drug abuse has been up to that point.
Engaging in high-risk, illegal activities to raise money might seem preferable to withdrawal sickness. Taking on debt to the potentially violent drug dealer might start to seem like a good idea. Or starting to sell drugs for profit, to cover the need, despite the risks of arrest and prison. When the addiction is pushing the addict towards the most dangerous drugs on the street, and the highest risk behaviors, the right move is to get into drug detox center under medical care.
At Sunrise Detox our medical assessment quickly sets the stage for managing the addiction. Medications are used to prevent withdrawal sickness from interfering with efforts to get clean of the influence of the drugs. Our focus in on comfort and care, with sincere determination to break thru the physical dependency, while securing whatever medical and perhaps psychological treatment is needed.
The Street Drugs are often Deadly
Detox is also the right move before the addict takes the much bigger risk of ingesting or otherwise using the street version of the drugs. What’s been mixed in with the drug? In what concentration?
The dealer can’t be trusted. Street drugs are often mixed with various fillers to increase profits, but sometimes are kept extremely pure to encourage further dependency. How do you know what you are getting?
A hit of heroin of unknown purity and composition can be deadly for one person, while tolerable for another. Our kids may have been feeding an active addiction to moderate doses of opioids, and then left to chance their lives with what was supposed to be an equivalent dose, but turns out to be a deadly overdose.
Drugs and Alcohol Don’t Mix Well
One of the more common contributors to overdose death on New Jersey is alcohol. Again, a user may have become accustomed to a specific dose of prescription drugs, and survived taking them with alcohol, but then die from a deadly mixture of the same alcohol with street heroin of unexpectedly purity or composition.
We Need Education, Prevention, Awareness, Intervention, and Treatment
All of this is needed to fix the problems we’re experiencing in New Jersey right now. We need to recognize addiction for what it is – a physical and psychological dependency on substances which change our bodies and minds, so we are not in control of our actions and futures. We need to intervene as soon as we have an opportunity. Get the individual into medical detox or addiction treatment, in any way possible, to begin the process of regaining control over the addiction. And then, through determination, commitment, and unconditional love and acceptance, help move them towards successful recovery. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.
Every addiction drives the victim hard towards and end, but addiction doesn’t have to end in death. Intervene as soon as you have a chance, and please ask for help. If Sunrise Detox can help, call us at 888-443-3869.