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Opioid Misuse

Support is Available for Substance Use Disorder

136 people die every day from an opioid overdose in the United States. Opioid use disorder—or substance use disorder—disrupts normal life, and results in devastating consequences for individuals and families. Watching someone you care about struggle with opioid addiction is incredibly difficult. Though the pathway to help can seem complex, understanding the issue and knowing about available resources is the first major step toward recovery. 

Opioids—commonly prescribed for pain—bind to receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Opioids trigger the release of endorphins, your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, creating a temporary but powerful sense of euphoria, and can cause an individual to repeat use in order to recreate the high. When the opioid dose wears off, the desire to recreate those powerful rewards creates an irresistible craving that feels necessary to function, resulting in repeated use, called addiction.

Addiction is a chronic disease that can happen to anyone. It’s difficult to predict who might be vulnerable to dependence on opioids. Like other chronic diseases, addiction is treatable and can be overcome. Support and treatment are crucial to reducing dependency, and without engagement in recovery, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death. 

Barton Health offers a medication-assisted treatment program for addiction (MAT) to residents of the greater Lake Tahoe community experiencing addiction to opioids and other substances. This unique program uses a combination of medication and support counseling; these components, when used in tandem, have been proven effective in the treatment of opioid use disorders and can help some people sustain recovery.

In chronic users, it is not easy to ‘just quit.’ Abrupt stopping use of opioids leads to severe symptoms, including generalized pain, chills, cramps, diarrhea, restlessness, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, and intense cravings. The impending threat of these severe symptoms creates significant motivation to continue using opioids to prevent withdrawal, creating a perpetual loop that is difficult to break.

Suboxone—the medication for opioid use disorder used in the MAT program—is an FDA-approved medication that helps to alleviate the physical symptoms of withdrawal and decrease cravings for continued opioid use. Suboxone is best used when a person is experiencing withdrawal.

A person in active withdrawal, and therefore suffering, may go to Barton’s Emergency Department or the Barton Community Health Center—where the MAT program is offered—for relief. While in withdrawal, they may be ready for a change, and that is the moment to begin the program. Aimed at stopping addiction in its tracks, Suboxone is first given to ease symptoms of withdrawal, giving the individual a fighting chance to cease use. Suboxone is also often used as a long-term medication to break free from the grips of opioid addiction.

Medications alone are not sufficient to get one’s life back from substance use disorders. The second, and equally profound, component of the program is recovery support counseling, offered at the same time as the Suboxone medication. Counseling and peer support helps the individual build behavioral tools for lasting sobriety, address underlying issues, and often includes participation from family/ peers as an external support system. It is proven that a recovery backed with support from family and peers yields a better chance of success. 

At any stage of opioid use, family/ peers can offer support by using compassionate language when speaking about the person’s condition. Like diabetes or arthritis, opioid use disorder is a health issue and should be approached as such. Words like “addict” or “user” should be avoided because they are stigmatized, and being defined as such is a proven barrier to an individual's motivation to receive care or treatment. Instead, non-labeling terms and phrases such as “struggles with addiction” and “substance use disorder” are supportive terms that show respect to people with addiction and their families who are impacted. 

In the event of an emergency, visit an emergency department. Evaluation and treatment is available for those facing medical emergencies. If you are ready to schedule an appointment for medication-assisted treatment (MAT), call our Substance Use Navigator at 530.307.1066. 

Families with loved ones who struggle with opioid addiction should be prepared for a possible life-threatening opioid overdose emergency and consider having naloxone on hand, ask their family member to carry it, and let friends know where it is. Naloxone, found in NARCAN Nasal Spray, is a potentially life-saving medication designed to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in minutes. Since most opioid overdoses occur in the home and are most often witnessed, having NARCAN nearby can save a life. 

NARCAN is becoming available at organizations throughout the community including South Lake Tahoe Library, El Dorado County Substance Use Disorder office, and Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless. Please remember, NARCAN Nasal Spray is not a substitute for emergency medical care, call 911 immediately in the event of an overdose.

Barton Health has earned a spot on the California 2021 Opioid Honor Roll as a ‘Superior Performer’—recognized for innovative opioid stewardship. This achievement demonstrates the efficacy of Barton’s evidence-based practices and programs aimed at addressing the opioid crisis in our community. If you or somebody you know is struggling with opioid use disorder, support is available.

Azzy Soave is a certified Substance Use Navigator with Barton Health, providing evidence-based treatment for substance use with support of the California Bridge program. For more information about the Barton Health MAT program, visit BartonHealth.org/MAT.