Orange County and San Diego County, both in California, are among the top 15 counties in the country that were hardest hit by fentanyl overdose deaths in 2016, according to the Washington Post. Communities are devastated by the skyrocketing number of deaths, and legislators, first responders, and the medical community alike are dumbfounded by the sheer numbers of people who are losing their lives to the drug.
Unfortunately, the nature of addiction itself is contributing to the problem. Too often, when people hear that someone has died of a heroin/fentanyl overdose, rather than reconsidering their path and running for the nearest treatment center, many who are living in deep addiction instead seek out more of that batch. Knowing that it is sure to provide a strong high, those who have a hard time “staying well” on run-of-the-mill heroin feel that this is their only recourse to definitively stave off withdrawal symptoms. They are willing to take the risk – the deadly risk – rather than potentially go into detox inadvertently.
Is your loved one struggling with a life-threatening opiate addiction?
It can be heartbreaking to watch someone you love make choices every day that put their life at risk. The fact is, however, that this is normal for people who live in active addiction, and the drug use itself is just one of the many life-threatening or potentially life-altering risks that are taken every day. Getting behind the wheel of a car, interacting with dangerous people, and making criminal choices that put their freedom as well as their health in jeopardy are just a few choices that are par for the course in active addiction.
For you, no matter how much you want to protect your loved one, they will not be safe as long as they continue to use street drugs. Though heroin is most often laced with fentanyl, cocaine has been found to be laced with fentanyl as well, and counterfeit pills have also been made using the substance. Lethal in very small amounts, there is no way to safely use this drug. Even people who have spent years in active addiction and feel they know how to carefully gauge their use are not safe. New users and longtime users alike have fallen victim to the drug. The only way to eradicate risk is to enter a medical detox and drug treatment program that can help them stop using all substances of abuse now.
Taking a Chance on Treatment
Entering a treatment program may seem like the clear choice for your loved one, but to them, from their perspective in active addiction, it can be the most fearful choice of all. Despite all its risk and difficulty, it is comfortable, especially to those who have spent years getting up each day with the single-minded goal of getting and staying high. Treatment is scary, and it starts with embracing the one thing they have been fighting to avoid for years: detox. Opiate withdrawal symptoms are beyond uncomfortable. Though not life-threatening, it can certainly feel that way when it happens without medical care and support, and almost no one in active addiction looks forward to undergoing that process.
Beyond medical detox, there is also the uncertainty that comes with creating new behavior patterns and making new lifestyle choices through therapeutic intervention and recovery. It is a long process and not without significant difficulties, and for many people, the idea of taking a chance on treatment sounds far riskier than taking a chance on the next batch of heroin that comes through town.
Taking the Leap
Many people who are actively living in recovery would never have taken the leap from addiction into treatment if not for the concern and care of their loved ones. Hearing from you, knowing that you are paying attention and that you care, and seeing that there are options for them in treatment can be what it takes to help them move closer to the idea of starting their own journey to recovery. If you are concerned that your loved one is in crisis due to addiction, taking the time to formally discuss the problems that have been created by their addiction disorder, create some clear expectations about what you need from them in terms of their choice to enter treatment, and introducing them to services that can help them to build a new life in recovery could be a game-changer.
Are you ready to help your loved one understand the risk of overdose and the need for treatment?