Due to the upcoming National Recovery Month, millennials are currently being encouraged to educate themselves on the signs that themselves or a loved one might have a substance use disorder, which treatment options are available, and what to do if a friend overdoses on drugs.
Every September, Recovery Month celebrates the millions of Americans who are in recovery from substance use and mental disorders, reminding us that treatment is effective and that people can and do recover. In honor of Recovery Month, it’s important to spread awareness about the dangers of abusing substances, how to recognize a drug overdose when you’re among friends, and what to do if you witness an overdose occurring.
Fast approaching are popular end-of-summer music festivals such as Burning Man, Electric Zoo, and the iHeartRadio festival which are notorious for drug use. The risks of festival drugs include dehydration, heatstroke, seizures, stroke, paranoia, hyperthermia, overdose and death. If you are aware of the signs and symptoms, you could potentially help save a life.
Of course, it’s not only at music festivals where substance abuse occurs. If you or a loved one is currently suffering with drug addiction or a substance use disorder, you are not alone. According to the most recent data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 19.7 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2017. That means that approximately 38% of adults were battling an illicit drug use disorder. 1 out of every 8 adults struggled with both alcohol and drug use disorders simultaneously.
Celebrated annually every September, Recovery Month aims to teach Americans that treatment programs and mental health services can help those with drug addictions and substance use disorders to live healthy and rewarding lives. Recovery Month is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and implements various education and prevention strategies.
Substance Abuse Statistics
Heroin use among young adults between 18 and 25 years old doubled in the past decade, and almost a quarter of people who abuse heroin will become addicted to it. Heroin addiction often starts with a prescribed opioid medication. It starts with a prescription, but it can snowball into opioid addiction, even in patients with no history of substance use.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health’s recent 2017 data found that an estimated 20.7 million people age 12 and older needed treatment for a substance use disorder, but only 4 million people received treatment. That means that less than 20% of sufferers who needed treatment actually get help.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, over 100 people die each day because of drug overdoses, and more than 700,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses in the last 20 years. Each day, thousands of Americans will be sent to hospital emergency rooms for drug overdoses. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control also stated that deaths from opioid overdose have quadrupled in the last 20 years.
Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)
One of the goals during Recovery Month is to promote and support evidence-based treatment programs and recovery methods. One particularly effective treatment program is Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). Pinelands Recovery Center explains that Medication-assisted treatment is an evidence-based practice used to treat substance use disorders such as nicotine use disorder, alcohol use disorder, and opioid use disorder. MAT uses medications in addition to counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders and prevent opioid overdose.
During MAT, certain FDA-approved medications are given to patients to alleviate painful withdrawal symptoms, decrease cravings, and help prevent relapse. According to Pinelands Recovery Center, one of the common myths of MAT is that addicts are simply trading one addiction for another. This is not true, because the medications are prescribed correctly, and titrated up carefully.
Methadone, for example, is a common long-acting opioid that is used in MAT to help wean individuals off of heroin and other addictive opioids. Pinelands Recovery Center explains, “The methadone dose is carefully titrated up, so the individual has minimal withdrawal effects, and over a few days to weeks, the individual will be weaned off of methadone safely. When prescribed correctly in combination with behavioral therapy, will not leave the individual with a new addiction.”
With MAT, the patient is able to slowly readjust while still being provided a smaller amount opioids. While the opioids are being slowly tapered off, the body is able to start reproducing its own opioids and withdrawal symptoms are much less intense, if felt at all.
It’s important for us to educate ourselves on treatment methods that have been proven to be effective such as MAT, because many of us will at some point have a loved one struggling with a substance use disorder. Advocates of Recovery Month want you to know that millions of Americans are proudly living their lives in recovery, which brings hope to those who currently need help reclaiming their lives.
How to Recognize if Your Friend is Having a Drug Overdose
Knowing what an overdose looks like for common festival or party drugs could help you save the life of a stranger or a friend in trouble at a party or music festival. Many people think that a drug overdose is obvious because someone would be lying unconscious on the floor, but there are actually many other symptoms that indicate an overdose.
For example, it’s important to know that an opioid drug overdose can result in cold or clammy skin, a weak pulse, and dramatically slowed breathing – leading to unconsciousness and even fatalities if nobody notices before their friend’s breathing has slowed or stopped.
An MDMA/Ecstasy overdose could result in seizures, panic attacks, faintness, extremely high blood pressure, or unconsciousness.
Overdosing on hallucinogens such as LSD include aggression, agitation, violence, paranoia, delirium, rapid heart rate and extremely high body temperature.
What Should You Do if Your Friend is Overdosing?
If you think your friend is overdosing, call 911 right away, and don’t be afraid of getting into trouble with the police. Good Samaritan laws in the United States mean that you won’t get in trouble for having used drugs or even for possessing drugs if you call to help a friend. So don’t run away – stay with them until the ambulance comes. Put them on their side, in case they vomit, so they don’t choke on their own vomit.
In 2017, there were 70,237 drug overdose deaths in the United States, based on mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System. These didn’t all happen at music festivals or at parties, but music festivals and parties are certainly an environment where this type of tragedy could happen.
The Dangers of Prescription Medication
It’s important to know that since highly-addictive opioid medications are sometimes prescribed for pain, even a well-intentioned patient with no history of drug use could develop an addiction to opioids.
The misuse of opioids such as prescription pain relievers, heroin, and fentanyl is incredibly dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that according to 2019 data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, every day more than 130 people in the United States die from overdosing on opioids.
Pinelands Recovery Center explains that roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain end up misusing them, and between 8 and 12 percent of them develop a serious opioid use disorder. It is incredibly easy for people to develop an addiction even when they are prescribed small doses of opioids by a doctor. Their initial use of prescribed opioids can easily snowball into a larger drug abuse issue.
That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the signs of addiction. For example, Pinelands Recovery Center states that if you notice you are taking more than you were prescribed, if you have multiple doctors giving you prescriptions, multiple prescriptions at multiple pharmacies, or you’re hiding or lying about your drug use, then you are addicted to opioids.
Plenty of treatment options are available, so do your research, contact your local recovery center, and seek help for yourself or a loved one in trouble.