Resources on opioid addiction

This is a list of resources on opioid addiction that I am putting together for a talk to a community advocate group this Thursday.

The big picture:

CDC Grand Rounds: Prescription Drug Overdoses — a U.S. Epidemic, January 2012: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6101a3.htm

CDC 2018 (It’s not getting better yet.) https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0329-drug-overdose-deaths.html


Snohomish County:

Snohomish County:

http://mynorthwest.com/878895/snohomish-co-opioid-crisis/

https://drkottaway.com/2018/03/03/reducing-recidivism-snohomish-county-sheriffs-office-and-human-services-program/

http://www.heraldnet.com/news/state-house-backs-snohomish-county-opioid-help-center/

http://knkx.org/post/snohomish-county-jail-now-offering-medically-assisted-detox-inmates

Washington State Pain Law

https://www.doh.wa.gov/ForPublicHealthandHealthcareProviders/HealthcareProfessionsandFacilities/OpioidPrescribing

https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/PoisoningandDrugOverdose/OpioidMisuseandOverdosePrevention


Is it genes that make people addicts?
(The short answer is genes are a minimal contribution. It is society and patterns learned in childhood and adulthood.)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (put people at way higher risk for addiction):
https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html


Books that helped me understand addiction
(in my teens):

It will never happen to me by Claudia Black (about the patterns children take in addiction households to survive and cope with childhood)

Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown (a black male writes about his childhood in Harlem when heroin hit the community. He was in a gang at age 6.)

Causes of death: which does your doctor treat?

What is the number one cause of death in the United States? The heart. You know that.

You might know the number two: all the cancer deaths put together.

Number three is lower respiratory disease: mostly caused by tobacco.

Number four. Can you guess? Number four is accidents. Unintentional deaths. In 2012 number four was stroke, but unintentional deaths have moved up the list, here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm. The CDC tracks unintentional deaths, here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/accidental-injury.htm. And what is the number one cause of unintentional death right now? It is not gun accidents. It is not car wrecks. It is not falls. It is unintentional overdose: usually opioids, legal or illegal, often combined with other sedating medicines or alcohol. Alcohol, sleep medicines, benzodiazepines, some muscle relaxants. No suicide note. Not on purpose. Or we don’t know if it is on purpose….

And does your physician try to prevent accidental death? Do they talk to you about seatbelts, about wearing bicycle helmets, about smoke alarms, about falls in the elderly, about domestic violence, about locking up guns? About not driving when under the influence? Do they talk about addiction and do they treat addiction?I think that every primary care physician should treat the top ten causes of death. I am a family medicine physician and I try to work with any age, any person. I treat addiction as well as chronic pain. I have always tried to talk about the risk of opiates when I prescribe them. I treat addictions including alcoholism, methamphetamines, cocaine, tobacco and opioids. Legal, illegal and iv opioids, from oxcodone and hydrocodone to heroin. That doesn’t mean I can safely treat every patient outpatient. People with multi drug addiction, or complex mental health with addiction, or severe withdrawal must be treated inpatient. But I have taken the buprenorphine training to get my second DEA number to learn how to safely treat opiate overuse. I took the course in 2011. I was the only physician in my county of 27,000 people who was a prescriber for two years. Now we have more, but still the vast majority of physicians in the United States have not taken the training even when it is offered free.

I don’t understand why more physicians, primary care doctors, are NOT taking the buprenorphine and recognition and treatment of opiate overuse course. Most are not trained. Why not take the training? Even if they are not prescribers, they will be much better informed for the options for patients. People are dying from opioids daily. Physicians have a DEA number to prescribe controlled substances: I think that every physician who prescribes opioids also has a duty and obligation to train to recognized and intervene and be informed about treating opioid overuse.

A large clinic group in Portland, Oregon made the decision last year that every primary care provider was required to train in buprenorphine. One provider disagreed and chose to leave. However, everyone else is now trained.

We as a country and as physicians need to get past fear, past stigma, past discrimination and past our fixed ideas and step up to take care of patients. If a physician treats alcoholism as part of primary care, they should also be knowledgeable and trained in treatment of opiate overuse.

Ask YOUR physician and YOUR local clinics: Do the providers prescribe opiates? Are their providers trained in preventing, recognizing and treating opiate addiction? Do they treat opiate overuse? Do they understand how buprenorphine can save lives and return people to work and to their families? Are they part of the solution?

For the Daily Prompt: provoke.

Reducing recidivism: Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Human Services Program

The last two days have been at the 20th Annual Fundamentals of Addiction Medicine Conference in Washington State, 15 lectures. Everything from science trying to understand addiction via studying dopamine in ratbrains to the last presentation: Snohomish County started a program two years ago that pairs a social worker with a county sheriff or deputy to work with the homeless.

The county is trying to stop the revolving door of homeless to arrested to jail to homeless. 95% of the county homeless are addicted to heroin and some to methamphetamines. They don’t access services when they are “dope sick”. They describe heroin as being 10x worse than the worst influenza. I think of withdrawal from opioids as having all the pain receptors turned as high as they can go and screaming at once.

The sheriff and social worker go to the camps. They get to know people and offer services. They have helped over 100 people get their identification replaced. When someone is arrested, their homeless encampment is often stolen. No honor among thieves, you say? The rat studies address that: in addiction the brain puts the drug first, in front of food, water, sex. Some rats will access the drug until they die, just like people. I think of it as the person losing their boundaries to the drug. The conference used the phrase “incentive salience” — dopamine is released when the person or rat is cued that the drug is now available and again when the drug arrives. More on that in another write up.

At any rate, the clients do not get to appointments. So the deputy and social work start at the beginning: they make the appointment, go knock on the tent that morning, remind the person to get dressed, take them to get food and coffee and then take them to the appointment. Then they return them to their camp.

After two months, the first sheriff and social worker were so successful that the program was expanded.

They have 206 chemical dependency evaluations.
232 have gone to detox. The detox is 3-5 days. They are taken straight from there to inpatient treatment, 30 day minimum, but ranging from 30-90 days. After treatment, clients are taken straight to sober housing, with a 6 month supported stay and intensive outpatient treatment.
85% get through the detox.
59% graduate from the treatment
50% go on to sober housing and intensive outpatient.
Their first clean and sober client is two years out.

50% of the homeless who agree to the program getting to sober housing is huge. Recidivism and incarceration drop, so it is making a true difference.

The program is expanding. They have a Community Court set up, much like Juvenile Drug Court, modeled after a program in Spokane. If the person agrees to drug treatment, they can do that instead of jail. This is for minor offenders. The sheriff says that once the homeless person is incarcerated, everything is stolen. They then steal food and supplies for a new camp when released and it happens again. If the client completes the program, low level charges may be dropped. They are setting up a service center right by the court where the clients are sent immediately to talk to a chemical dependency person, to get medical treatment, dental emergencies, centralized services because these people do not have transportation.

The social worker is in kevlar and heavy clothes as well and is never to go in the encampments without the law enforcement officers: it’s usually private land so it would be trespassing anyway.

This was an absolutely inspiring presentation. It starts with outreach and intervention, and gives people choices. They will soon be opening a temporary site, up to 15 days with medical support and beds, for when a client is ready but the social worker needs to arrange the detox, the treatment, the housing. Sometimes when a client is finally ready, there are no beds. And they don’t want to send them to detox and then back to the streets. The sheriff says that he was “volutold” for the program, but he, the deputy and the social worker are all clearly inspired by the program and enjoy their work and that it is making a difference.

 

Any write up on addiction fits today’s Daily Prompt: messy.

Why care for addicts?

Why care for addicts?

Children. If we do addiction medicine and help and treat addicts, we are helping children and their parents and our elderly patients’ children. We are helping families, and that is why I chose Family Practice as my specialty.

Stop thinking of addiction as the evil person who chooses to buy drugs instead of paying their bills. Instead, think of it as a disease where the drug takes over. Essentially, we have trouble with addicts because they lie about using drugs. But I think of it as the drug takes over: when the addict is out of control, the drug has control. The drug is not just lying to the doctor, the spouse, the parents, the family, the police: the drug is lying to the patient too.

The drug says: just a little. You feel so sick. You will feel so much better. Just a tiny bit and you can stop then. No one will know. You are smart. You can do it. You have control. You can just use a tiny bit, just today and then you can stop. They say they are helping you, but they aren’t. Look how horrible you feel! And you need to get the shopping done and you can’t because you are so sick…. just a little. I won’t hurt you. I am your best friend.

I think of drug and alcohol addiction as a loss of boundaries and a loss of control. I treat opiate overuse patients and I explain: you are here to be treated because you have lost your boundaries with this drug. Therefore it is my job to help you rebuild those boundaries. We both know that if the drug takes control, it will lie. So I have to do urine drug tests and hold you to your appointments and refuse to alter MY boundaries to help keep you safe. If the drug is taking over, I will have you come for more frequent visits. You have to keep your part of the contract: going to AA, to NA, to your treatment group, giving urine specimens. These things rebuild your internal boundaries. Meanwhile you and I and drug treatment are the external boundaries. If that fails, I will offer to help you go to inpatient treatment. Some people refuse and go back to the drug. I feel sad but I hope that they will have another chance. Some people die from the drug and are lost.

Addiction is a family illness. The loved one is controlled by the drug and lies. The family WANTS to believe their loved one and often the family “enables” by helping the loved one cover up the illness. Telling the boss that the loved one is sick, procuring them alcohol or giving them their pills, telling the children and the grandparents that everything is ok. Everything is NOT ok and the children are frightened. One parent behaves horribly when they are high or drunk and the other parent is anxious, distracted, stressed and denies the problem. Or BOTH are using and imagine if you are a child in that. Terror and confusion.

Children from addiction homes are more likely to be addicts themselves or marry addicts. They have grown up in confusing lonely dysfunction and exactly how are they supposed to learn to act “normally” or to heal themselves? The parents may have covered well enough that the community tells them how wonderful their father was or how charming their mother was at the funeral. What does the adult child say to that, if they have memories of terror and horror? The children learn to numb the feelings in order to survive the household and they learn to keep their mouths shut: it’s safer. It is very hard to unlearn as an adult.

I have people with opiate overuse syndrome who come to see me with their children. I have drawings by children that have a doctor and a nurse and the words “heroes” underneath and “thank you”. I  have had a young pregnant patient thank me for doing a urine drug screen as routine early in pregnancy. “My friend used meth the whole pregnancy and they never checked,” she said, “Now her baby is messed up.”

Addiction medicine is complicated because we think people should tell the truth. But it is a disease precisely because it’s the loss of control and loss of boundaries that cause the lying. We should be angry at the drug, not the person: love the person and help them change their behavior. We need to stop stigmatizing and demeaning addiction and help people. For them, for their families, for their children and for ourselves.

I took the photo of my daughter on Easter years ago.

Chronic pain and antidepressants

Continue reading

Opiate overuse: a change in diagnostic criteria

In the DSM IV, that is, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, opioid dependence disorder and opioid addiction disorder are separate. Everyone on a chronic pain medicine for a length of time was expected to be dependent, but not addicted. Addiction was considered rare and was thought to be mostly people who abused opiates. Who took them for pleasure. Oxycontin, heroin, vicodon. Those bad people who were partying. Got what they deserved, didn’t they?

That has changed. My feeling was that it’s been a long time coming, but no one asked me.

In the DSM V, opioid dependence and opioid addiction have been combined into “Opioid Use Disorder”. They are no longer considered separate. They are a spectrum. Anyone who is on chronic opioids is on that spectrum. This is a big change. It has not really penetrated the doctors’ consciousness, much less the patients.

It is quite simple to score. There are 11 criteria. They are yes and no questions. Score and add up. The patients are scored mild, moderate or severe.

Here are the criteria:

Opioid Use Disorder requires meeting 2 or more criteria; increasing severity of use disorder with increasing number of criteria met.

1. Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.

2. Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.

3. Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance.

4. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:

(a) a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication of desired effect.
(b) markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.

5. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:

(a) the characteristic withdrawal syndrome or
(b) the same (or a closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

6. The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended.

7. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use.

8. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use of the substance or recover from its effects.

9. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use.

10. The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.

11. Craving or a strong desire to use opioids.

Mild substance use disorder is yes to 2-3 of these.

My chronic pain patients ask, “Why do you treat me like a drug addict?”

The answer now is, “Because you are on a chronic opiate.”

I am starting to use the criteria in clinic. When I get a new chronic pain patient, I give them the list. I let them tell me.

It is hard because they often recognize 3 or 4 or 5 or more things on the list. They say, “So this is saying I’m addicted.”

“I’m afraid so.”

They grieve.

I am posting this because people are dying. The number of people dying from prescription medicine overdoses taken correctly has outstripped illegal drug use deaths, approximately 27,000 unintentional overdose deaths in 2007.

Here: CDC Grand Grand Rounds: Prescription Drug Overdoses – a U. S. Epidemic.

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6101a3.htm

The CDC article says: “The two main populations in the United States at risk for prescription drug overdose are the approximately 9 million persons who report long-term medical use of opioids, and the roughly 5 million persons who report nonmedical use (i.e., use without a prescription or medical need), in the past month.”That is “approximately” 14 million people.

Please tell your friends and those you love about this. Thank you.

first published on everything2 on June 4, 2014.

Alcohol

Let’s talk about alcohol.

I am a family practice physician and I talk to people of all ages about alcohol. The current recommendation is no more than one drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men, no saving it up for the weekend.

“What?” you say “No way. Come on, that’s ridiculous.”

My patients don’t say “That’s ridiculous.” After all, they are paying me to do a physical exam and a preventative exam. I am supposed to give them advice. But what is the basis for that?

One drink is defined as a regulation 12 oz beer or 6 ounces of wine or one ounce of hard liquor. If it is a high alcohol beer or wine, the amount is less.

It is NOT the liver doctors that have given us these numbers. It is the cardiologists, the heart doctors. One drink in women or two in men, lowers blood pressure and in general, has good effects. Go over that daily and there is a rebound in blood pressure as the alcohol wears off. Alcohol works in the same way as benzodiazepines: it makes people less anxious and more relaxed and lowers inhibitions. Both alcohol and benzodiazepines are addictive in the long term.

Cardiologists qualify this recommendation as follows: there is no recommended daily amount of alcohol that is considered heart protective because there are too many alcoholics. The recommended daily amount of alcohol for an alcoholic is none. The recommended daily amount of alcohol for the general population is none.

Alcohol withdrawal can be very very dangerous medically. I think that the three most difficult things to quit are heroin, methamphetamines and cigarettes, but alcohol is more dangerous. In heroin withdrawal all of the pain receptors fire at once, so it is torture, but people don’t die. With serious alcohol withdrawal, the blood pressure skyrockets and the person can have seizures, a stroke, a heart attack, delerium tremens and can die. In the hospital, benzodiazepines are used to slow the withdrawal, replacing alcohol in a controlled manner.

Alcohol does more than affect the blood pressure. Over time, alcohol can damage the heart and lead to congestive heart failure. Of course, you know that it can damage the liver and lead to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is sneaky: as long as there are a few functioning liver cells, the lab work can look pretty normal. The liver makes proteins for the blood and makes proteins that allow our blood to clot. Once there aren’t enough healthy cells to make those proteins, alcoholics will bleed quite spectacularly. If the amount of the protein albumin in their blood is low, fluid leaks from the blood into the tissues: so whatever part is “dependent”, that is, lowest, will be swollen. Alcoholics can have legs with swelling where I can push with my finger and there is a two or three cm dimple. Alcohol also can lead to gastritis and ulcers. If someone can’t clot and they are vomiting blood from an ulcer, the doctor gets a tummyache too, from worrying. Ow. The liver is also supposed to filter all of the blood in the body. As the liver gets blocked with dead liver cells, the blood starts to bypass it. The bypass is through blood vessels in the stomach. Remember that person vomiting blood? The swollen vessels in the stomach are called varicies and we don’t like them to bleed. They are big, swollen and can bleed really really fast. The person can die. I don’t like transfusing and really don’t like transfusing 12 units of blood. In end stage alcoholism, the liver no longer lowers the blood level of ammonia. Ammonia crosses the blood brain barrier and poisons the brain. We haven’t even discussed the lack of vitamin B12 and thiamine which can cause unraveling of the myelin sheaths on the long fibers in the spinal cord: this means that the person gets permanent asterixis and “walks like a drunk” even when they are sober. I’m sure I haven’t remembered all of the consequences of alcohol, but that will do for now, right?

How much alcohol daily causes the above charming picture? We Don’t Know. Really. And it is not okay to do randomized double blinded clinical trials to find out. Same with pregnant women: we don’t know if there is a safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy and we bloody well can’t test it. It is safer not to drink while you are pregnant.

In clinic, I ask how much people drink. If they say 1-2 drinks daily, I ask what the drink is. Sometimes they look confused. I explain that I have one patient who has two drinks a day: however, it is a 12 ounce glass with a little ice and a lot of whiskey. I asked him to estimate how much whiskey and he said, “6-8 ounces.” That is, each glass is 6-8 ounces. His blood pressure is not under control and so far I feel like a failure as a doctor with him; he is NOT reducing the amount. In medical school, the two jokes were: How much alcohol is too much? More than your doctor drinks. And: How much does the patient drink? Double or triple what they tell us.

The popular word in college used to be that you could drink one drink an hour and still be “okay”. “Okay” to drive and it would wear off. Sorry, nope. Breathalyzers are now pretty cheap; buy one if you are drinking more than the 1-2 per day. And the college students that are binge drinking 6-8 or more drinks on Friday and Saturday. It DOES have long term effects and it IS doing damage.

Lastly, sleep and depression. If you are having trouble sleeping, don’t drink. No alcohol at all. Alcohol is a depressant. It helps people to fall asleep. But they do not have “normal sleep architecture” and it works AGAINST them staying asleep. People often wake up as the alcohol wears off. And the blood pressure is having that rebound, remember, and often their heart will race. That is withdrawal. If you are having trouble sleeping or you are depressed, do not take a depressant. It makes it worse.

I saw a nineteen year old in clinic who admitted to “occasional” heroin use. “But I’m not addicted,” she said. I said, “Well, that’s good. But I took care of a bunch of people undergoing heroin withdrawal while I was in residency and it looked like one of the most painful things on the planet. So I would advise you to quit while you are ahead.” I saw her a year later and she said, “When I tried to quit, it WAS hard. I was addicted and didn’t know it. I’m off now and I won’t go back.” So if you tell me, no problem, I can quit alcohol any time, I say more power to you. Show me. And if it’s harder than you think, get help.