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Opiate Epidemic: Yes, It is Still a Thing

Opiate Epidemic: Yes, It is Still a Thing

 

Author: Justin Mckibben

It can be said that the major public health campaign to curb opiate use and abuse has had some success in reducing the number of people who take potentially addictive narcotic painkillers. So the efforts and accomplishments of those trying to raise awareness of the opiate epidemic have not gone unnoticed.

That being said, the opiate epidemic is still a thing. The reality is opiate use is still a big deal because even though less patients are prescribed, those who are prescribed the drugs are getting prescribed more of these medications, and are being given them for a longer period of time. This combined with the role opiates play in accidental deaths in America makes for a very real issue.

Study Statistics

In a recent study nearly half the people who took painkillers for over 30 days in the first year of the survey were still using them 3 years later, which researches say is a sign of potential abuse.

The pharmacy claims of 6.8 million Americans who filled at least one prescription for an opiate medication between 2009 and 2013 were examined for the data collected in this study. Opioids are some of the most commonly used drugs including:

  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone

The report that was released this past Tuesday by the pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts, found that:

  • Nearly 60% of patients taking the painkillers to treat long-term conditions were also being prescribed muscle relaxants or anti-anxiety drugs that could cause dangerous reactions.

The senior vice president at Express Scripts Dr. Glen Stettin stated,

“Not only are more people using these medications chronically, they are using them at higher doses than we would necessarily expect. And they are using them in combinations for which there isn’t a lot of clinical justification.”

Dangers of Opiate Abuse and Overdose

In case you did not know, I reported in a recent article that overdoses involving prescription drugs are actually the leading cause of accidental death in the United States of America! According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Opiate painkillers play a role in about 70% of accidental deaths attributed to overdoses involving prescription drugs
  • Opiate overdoses led to 16,000 deaths in 2012

So one major concern with the growing statistic of longer term use and over-prescribed amounts of these medications is the greatly increased risk of overdose, and the statistics already show that accidental death in many ways is not uncommonly linked to opiate abuse or addiction.

Dangers of Mixing Medications

With few exceptions, patients who are taking an opioid painkiller should not be prescribed other drugs with a sedative effect because of a risk that the combined drugs could slow down the respiratory system. The recent study found:

  • Nearly 1/3 of patients were prescribed an opioid and a benzodiazepine in the same month
  • Around the same percentage were prescribed a muscle relaxant and an opioid at the same time
  • 27% were taking more than one opioid at a time, another hazardous combination

Given the information by the patients saying many of them were prescribed by different doctors, and filled prescriptions at different pharmacies, the data suggests a fair amount of doctor shopping and a need for stricter regulations on medication.

Long Term Problems

The drop in prescriptions of opiate medications is a great sign of change. However it is disturbing that doctors are continuing to give opioids to many patients for long time frames of treatment. Most experts now believe that while helpful in treating pain from injuries and surgery, opioids should be discontinued as quickly as possible.

The Express Scripts study found that a large percentage of patients who took an opiate medication for 30 days or more continued to use the drug long term. While some doctors insist medications should be provided that work around the clock, the data determined that about half of those patients were taking short-acting opioids.

While many experts say it is a relief to know that less people are actually being handed out prescriptions for these kinds of medications, it is still fearful to know that many people who are prescribed them are still being given larger quantities for longer extensions of time. Several doctors insist that opiates should not be considered a long-term solution for those in pain, and that there is still plenty to be done to raise awareness about the dangers of prolonged opiate dependence.

Opiate addiction, be it prescription medication or illicit narcotics such as heroin, is one disease that has had a pretty intense impact on the world. The past few years have been especially eye-opening for many as to the realities of this addiction. Hopefully as regulations change and studies continue to monitor the changes in the circumstances, we will find few people suffering and dying from this terrible illness. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

Prescription Pill Crackdown Within the NFL

Prescription Pill Crackdown Within the NFL

By Cheryl Steinberg

A Washington Post survey published in April of last year, found that, of more than 500 retired NFL players, one in four said he team doctors pressured them to take medication they were uncomfortable with taking. Players told The Post that they took prescription drugs on almost a daily basis, and frequently without documentation. Furthermore, nine in 10 former football players said they played while injured at some point in their careers, and more than two in three said they felt that they didn’t have a choice.

Prescription Pill Crackdown Within the NFL

Yesterday, Federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents conducted surprise inspections of the medical staffs of National Football League teams as part of an ongoing investigation into claims of prescription drug abuse in the NFL. The inspections, consisting of bag searches and questioning of team doctors by DEA agents, were initiated as a result of suspicion that NFL teams illegally dispense drugs in order to keep players on the field – a violation of the Controlled Substances Act – according to a senior law enforcement official associated with the investigation.

Rusty Payne, a DEA spokesman, confirmed that the investigation did indeed exist and said it was spurred on by a class-action lawsuit that was filed in federal court back in May by more than 1,300 retired NFL players.

In the suit, the former players allege that NFL team medical staffs regularly violated federal and state laws by plying their players with powerful and addictive narcotics, such as Percocet, sleeping pills, such as Ambien, as well as the non-narcotic painkiller, Toradol, so that they could play through their injuries on game days.

In fact, a Washington University School of Medicine 2010 study of 644 former NFL players found that retired NFL players misuse opioids at a rate of four times that of non-players in their age bracket. This was indicated by either overusing opiate painkillers within the past 30 days, taking these drugs without a prescription — or both.

Players described being given unlabeled medications in hazardous combinations – a practice known as “stacking” or “cocktailing” medications, teams filling out prescriptions in players’ names without their knowledge, trainers passing out pills in hotels or locker rooms, and medications being given out on team planes after games – while alcohol was being consumed.

Federal law states that only a physician or nurse practitioner can distribute prescription drugs, and they must meet countless regulations for acquiring, storing, labeling and transporting them. Furthermore, it is also illegal for a physician to administer or distribute prescription drugs outside of their geographic area of practice. That said, it is illegal for trainers to dispense – or even handle – controlled substances in any way.

The DEA official also said that the investigation will focus on medical practices amongst all 32 teams that comprise the league, including the possible distribution of drugs without prescriptions or labels as well as the alleged practice of drugs being dispensed by trainers instead of physicians.

Part of the driving force behind the DEA’s interest in pursuing such an investigation into the NFL is their widely-held belief that relaxed prescribing practices is one of the leading factors in creating addicts.

An official with the NFL said that many teams had met with federal authorities on Sunday. “Our teams cooperated with the DEA today and we have no information to indicate that irregularities were found,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement.

If you had at one time been prescribed powerful narcotics, such as painkillers like Oxycodone or Vicodin, and find that you can’t stop taking them, even though you desperately want to, help is available. There are many others in the same situation. Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to speak with an Addiction Specialist today.

Staten Island Hands Out Narcan Kits to Combat Overdose

Staten Island Hands Out Narcan Kits to Combat Overdose

Author: Justin Mckibben

Recent data shows a drastic decrease in overdose in 2013, though it still remains remarkably high over-all as an issue in America. Staten Island is the so-called overlooked borough of New York City that has been despairingly dubbed ‘Heroin’s New Hometown’ by The New York Times publication. Back in 2006 New York State (NYS) introduced the ‘Opioid Prevention Act’ allowing the NYCDOH to distribute 50,000 Naloxone OD kits, and the decision to arm the general public with a first defense against overdose has apparently been well needed on the front lines on the war against the ‘heroin epidemic’.

Dr. Hillary Kunins is an Assistant Commissioner at the NYCDOH, stated that Staten Island has been the focus of an aggressive campaign to fight an overdose rate 4 times higher than any NYC borough! Dr Kunins is also the Director of Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Use Prevention Care at the NYDOH. Her and other expert physicians in the area believe in the impact that this resource can have on the community, and think it is appropriate to take the fight against heroin to the streets.

The Opiate and the Overdose

Dr. Harshai Kirane, the director of addiction at Staten Island Hospital, recently gave a presentation in a new teaching auditorium at Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) on Staten Island. During this public presentation Dr.Kirane showed a video of how to spot the symptoms of overdose, and the proper and safe method to distribute Narcan, the brand name for Naloxone. During the lecture Dr Kirane made a statement that reflected the severity of the overdose epidemic in Staten Island, saying everyone should carry an OD kit!

Opiates are prescription pain relievers based on morphine, which have become more and more popular and more awareness has been brought to the dangerous effects these drug have on people who get them prescribed. Opiates are products, like heroin, derived from the morphine poppy plant, so most people use the term ‘opiate’ to refer to both types of narcotic, and those people who use prescription painkillers quite typically move on to using heroin. An overdose caused by an opiate is described using some physical symptoms such as:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Lips and fingers appearing gray
  • Loss of consciousness

The Overdose Disruptor

Naloxone is the famous ‘miracle anti-OD drug’ that is currently being freely distributed to anyone that wants it by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYCDOH). If applied to a victim during overdose, the antidote will get rid of the effects of opiates temporarily, but with the possibility of returning the victim returning to an overdosed state once again. However that small period of time is enough opportunity to contact emergency services. It’s being called a time-out from death, the second chance or pause button is not a cure, but it’s definitely helping save lives.

How do you use Naloxone? Well the first thing you do is call 911, and then if the individual isn’t breathing attempt to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and apply the Narcan. The drug is only useful in an opiate overdose, and also it is a safe substance that would not harm someone who is not overdosing.

Getting the Kit Out

Dr. Kunins stated these kits include two doses of the intra-nasal form of Narcan. They were passed out to several community groups, as well as handed out to targeted individuals at risk of overdose, and even their families. The wonderful part was that the efforts included active drug users in a position to observe overdoses themselves.

With the kit the DOH gives away the two doses of Narcan come in a small blue bag with a nasal spray or a syringe shot. The kit also includes surgical gloves and rescue breathing mask. A single puncture in the shoulder with the syringe can be used to administer the drug into the bloodstream immediately and reverse the effects of the opioids, so the shot does not need to be taken intravenously. Spraying the medication up each nostril from the atomizer will have the same effect. Luckily, the process has been simplified and can be done by anyone.

Dr. Kunins believes that the Narcan program being used in collaboration with sensible prescription practices and raising awareness of the potential risk of overdose has all the potential to help reverse a disturbing nationwide trend. The climbing deaths due to both heroin and prescription opiate abuse and ultimately overdose has been devastating and disturbing for too long, and now has great potential to put power back in the hands of the people struggling most.

Thankfully, Staten Island is one of many areas that has started to take action in trying to overcome the overdose statistics across the country. With these kits being put in the possession of the public, more people are going to have a chance at surviving the disease of addiction. However real recovery comes with consistent growth, and it all starts with a willingness to change. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Detox for Pain Meds After Surgery or Illness

 Detox for Pain Meds After Surgery or Illness

Were you prescribed pain meds after surgery or a serious illness? Are you now trying to stop taking the meds, only to find that you begin to feel sick, depressed, and anxious? This is a sign of drug dependence and it is very common, especially with powerful narcotic painkillers that doctors prescribe post-surgery or for certain illnesses and pain conditions. Because of this there are programs for medical detox for pain meds after surgery or illness, or for a chronic pain disorder.

Physical Dependence vs. Addiction

Being physically dependent on a medication does not necessarily mean that you are an addict. You may be physically addicted but, there is a difference when it comes to that and someone who has the disease of addiction.

Prescription painkillers are opioids, meaning a man-made version of an opiate – such as heroin, which comes from a plant. The way opioids work is this: once taken, your brain recognizes them as chemicals and they attach to tiny parts on nerve cells called opioid receptors. After using opioid pain meds long-term, these drugs actually cause changes in the way brain nerve cells work. This happens to everyone, even people who were prescribed pain meds for a legitimate medical reason. The nerve cells become used to having opioids around, so that when they are taken away suddenly, you experience a lot of uncomfortable and even painful reactions. These are known as withdrawal symptoms. A detox for pain meds after surgery or illness can treat your withdrawal symptoms and keep you comfortable through the process.

Someone with the disease of addiction is also physically dependent on a drug, or drugs, such as pain meds. When someone has a drug addiction, it means that they continue to take the meds until they build a tolerance and then seek more, even if it means getting drugs through illegal means, although this is not always the case. People with addiction will also continue to use drugs despite the negative impact it’s having on their lives, such as loss of job, relationships, and financial and legal troubles. For these folks, a detox from pain meds after surgery or illness is also beneficial, although they will need to continue their rehabilitation through other programs, such as inpatient and intensive outpatient.

Detox for Pain Meds After Surgery or Illness: What to Expect

A detox program that treats the withdrawal symptoms that result from coming off of narcotic pain meds has two phases.

Detox for Pain Meds After Surgery or Illness: Evaluation

The first step in the detox process takes place when you first arrive. You will meet with an Intake Specialist who will ask you questions about your situation: what drug or drugs you are taking, how much, and how you take them (whether you swallow them as pills, crush and snort them, or inject them). All of this information is kept confidential and is protected by HIPAA laws that are a part of federal legislation that protects an individual’s medical information.

Detox for Pain Meds After Surgery or Illness: Stabilization

This process takes anywhere from 4 to ten days, sometimes a little longer, and consists of you being tapered off of the pain meds, usually with the help of other prescribed medications. You will be monitored by a full professional medical staff for the rest of your stay. Your vitals will be taken twice daily and your meals will be provided for you.

By the end of your detox from pain meds after surgery or illness, you will be feeling much, much better. If you have a chronic pain condition that will continue some kind of management, including medication, the medical doctor at the detox will work with you to prescribe a non-narcotic alternative as well as make suggestions as to other therapies that can alleviate your pain, such as physical therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care.

If you have become dependent or addicted to prescription pain meds and are looking for help to get off of them, an opiate detox such as a detox for pain meds after surgery or illness can offer you this help. Call an Addiction Specialist at toll-free 1-800-951-6135 today, we are available around the clock.

Experts: Painkillers More Harmful Than Helpful

 Experts: Painkillers More Harmful Than Helpful

By Cheryl Steinberg

The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) has recently issued a warning about taking powerful painkillers to treat pain conditions not associated with cancer conditions.

According to the AAN, which issued their new position statement in the September issue of the academy’s medical journal, Neurology, the risks of taking prescription painkillers far outweigh any potential benefits.

The AAN cited risks associated with the taking of powerful narcotic painkillers, which include overdose, death, and a high potential for abuse, dependence and addiction, outweigh the benefits of treating pain such as that from headaches, fibromyalgia, and chronic low back pain – essentially non-cancer conditions.

Painkillers and Non-Cancer Pain Treatment

Initially, narcotic painkillers such as oxycodone, Oxycontin, and hydrocodone were developed for the purpose of pain management in cancer patients. Due to more lax prescribing regulations for long-term use, painkillers have become more and more the go-to for treating pain that pales in comparison to that associated with cancer.

Gary Franklin, a research professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences in the University Of Washington School Of Public Health in Seattle and a fellow with the AAN said, “More than 100,000 people have died from prescription opioid use since policies changed in the late 1990s to allow much more liberal long-term use.”

Painkillers, the U.S., and Overdose Rates

Every year, U.S. doctors prescribe more than 259 million prescriptions for painkillers. As a result, Americans consume 80% of the world’s painkillers. Doctors, institutions, states, and patients need to work together to stop this “epidemic,” Franklin said.

Rates of drug overdose deaths in the United States have tripled in the past 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There have been more deaths from prescription opioids in the most vulnerable young to middle-aged groups than from firearms and car accidents,” added Franklin.

Pain (Mis-)Management

Studies cited by the AAN have shown that half of patients who were taking opioid painkillers for at least three months are still taking the drugs five years later. After reviewing the available research, it’s evident that, while these medications can provide significant pain relief in the short-term, there is no considerable evidence “for maintaining this effect or improving function over long periods without serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction.”

The AAN suggests that doctors can prescribe opioids more safely and effectively by screening their patients for current or past drug use, depression, as well as assessing their pain and function by measuring for tolerance and effectiveness. “More research and information regarding opioid effectiveness and management is needed along with changes in state and federal laws and policy to ensure patients are safer when prescribed these drugs,” Franklin said.

In addition, the AAN recommends that doctors consult a pain management specialist if their patient’s painkiller dosage exceeds 80 to 120 milligrams per day and especially if their pain and function have not improved substantially.

Are you taking prescription painkillers for a chronic pain condition? Have you been on the medication for way too long and want to get off of it but can’t? A lot of people who become addicted to narcotics were initially prescribed them by their doctors for legitimate reasons. These drugs are so powerful, though, that they tend to do more harm than good in the long run. If you want to find out other options for treating your pain, call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to speak with an Addiction Specialist. We have helped many other people in your position to stop taking painkillers in a safe and comfortable way.

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