Tag: opioid epidemic

Is This App the Next Chapter in Recovering From Heroin?

Everything You Need in the Palm of Your Hand

mobile app helps with heroin recovery

The stakes for addicts’ lives have never been higher as the heroin epidemic continues to rage across our country. Overdose deaths are up in just about every state, county, and city. It seems like everyone knows someone who’s been affected by heroin or painkillers.

Desperate times call for creative solutions – and that’s just what an Ohio woman came up with.

Brandy Spaulding, an intern at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, was convinced there had to be some way to harness recovery into our phones. Everyone’s on their phone 24/7 anyway, she figured, so how can addicts use this to help their sobriety?

With this idea in mind, she created something called Squirrel Smart Recovery. The app, explained in detail below, allows recovering heroin addicts to get the support and strength they need.

Read on to learn just how Spaulding and her app are trying to revolutionize recovery for heroin addicts!

Speaking of creative solutions – learn about the mobile methadone clinic that’s set on ending heroin abuse in Baltimore!

Squirrel Smart Recovery

We’ve reported on sobriety apps before, and probably will again, but what makes Squirrel Smart so innovative is that it focuses only on heroin. This pinpoint focus allows it to do things that other, more general, recovery apps can’t.

What exactly does this app allow users to do? Well, it’s most groundbreaking features are:

  • Squirrel Smart allows you to rate your mood, cravings & stress throughout each day. This info is saved & allows you to get a holistic, bird’s-eye view of your recovery.

  • It allows you to create a ten person “support team.” You can text your supporters throughout the day from the app. The support team can also view all the info mentioned above (mood, cravings & stress).

  • Squirrel Smart tracks the amount of time you’ve been sober & offers rewards & incentives to continue.

  • It has an emergency button. If pressed, all ten of your supports are immediately notified.

  • It also features testimonials & encouragement from others in recovery.

Those are all pretty cool, right? Since Squirrel Smart Recovery is so new, it remains to be seen how effective this digital approach will be. Still, Spaulding and the rest of the Wexner Medical Center remain hopefully about the positive impact their app can have on the recovery community.

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Will Apps Replace Traditional Treatment?

One question Squirrel Smart and other recovery apps bring up is whether this new, digital recovery will replace traditional channels. Although that seems unlikely, let’s examine this idea a bit closer.

In today’s increasingly internet dominated world, people text more than they call. Squirrel Smart has taken this idea to heart and offers users the ability to notify their support system though texts.

This type of “text therapy” is attractive to a lot of people, especially millennials. As that generation grows, matures, and some get sidelined by drugs and alcohol – sobriety apps offer an attractive way to get better without having to make phone calls or meet face to face.

young people using their phones to get healthy

It’s a far cry from using apps, text, and the internet to help with recovery, to making them the center of someone’s recovery. Still, the potential does exist.

I’m left wondering whether this is even a bad thing. Although there’s no doubt that face-to-face, inpatient treatment is the gold standard of treating addiction – do digital avenues offer the same growth potential?

That remains to be seen.

Regardless, I think everyone can celebrate the fact that recovering heroin addicts now have one more tool to help fight addiction. People are getting better and lives are being saved – what else really matters?

This addiction therapist was arrested for trafficking heroin…what the hell is going on?

The Frightening Truth about Abuse-Deterrent Painkillers

These Pills are Still Dangerous!

I recently read a New York Times article that sent chills down my spine. It focused on many of the new abuse-deterrent painkillers and how, despite extensive testing and precautions, they’re still being abused.

opioid epidemic
image via Flickr user mattza

What this means in practical terms is that America’s opioid epidemic is far from being over. Despite numerous claims that abuse-deterrent pills will herald a new era, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

The Time’s article briefly profiled Anthony DiTullio. He continued to abuse OxyContin even after the pills became abuse-deterrent in 2010. His solution to the pill’s so called “abuse-proof” measures? Chew and grind the pills between his teeth for a half hour.

DiTullio isn’t alone in his methods either. Addicts across the country continue to get high from Oxys and other abuse-deterrent painkillers. There’s no hard data on the prevalence of this yet. Remember, it’s only been since the late aughts that pharmaceutical companies began making their pills difficult to abuse.

There are various studies out there that confirm abuse-deterrent measures have in fact decreased abuse. Still, these same studies point out that many addicts simply switched to heroin or other, easier to abuse pills.

Overall, many health officials are worried that these abuse-deterrent drugs are simply lulling the public into a false sense of security. They’re worried that pharmaceutical companies have only placed a Band-Aid over the wound and an ineffective Band-Aid at that.

Let’s explore some of the larger points the Times article raises and see if things are really as bleak as they seem.

Do painkillers make someone more likely to “snap?”

The Limits of Abuse-Deterrent Pills

First and foremost, abuse-deterrent versions of popular painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin are a step in the right direction. Still, there’s a limit to just how well these formulations work.

Take, for example, the recent HIV outbreak in Indiana. This was triggered by a number of individuals crushing and injecting the powerful painkiller Opana (hydromorphone).

Seems tragic though fairly normal, right? It is, until you consider that until recently Opana was marketed as difficult, if not downright impossible, to abuse via injection. In fact, the FDA ruled in 2013 that Endo Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Opana, had to remove the abuse-deterrent label from its packaging.

When asked about whether these abuse-deterrent formulas really worked, Anthony DiTullio had the following to say,

“I would definitely say that OxyContin is harder to abuse than it used to be — it was a pain in the neck…No matter what they [pharmaceutical companies] do, there’s always going to be a way for people to get whatever they want in their system” (The New York Times).

When you consider the size of the opioid market, DiTullio’s claim becomes downright terrifying. Upwards of 210 million opioid prescriptions were written in 2014. According to Express Scripts, a minuscule 1.4% of these were filled for abuse-deterrent versions.

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Other Limits of “Safe” Pills

Many abuse-deterrent formulas are designed to make crushing, sniffing, and injecting painkillers difficult. They’re not aimed at reducing rates of oral abuse.

Well, according to a study cited in the Times, most painkiller abuse occurs via oral administration. That means these “safe” pills aren’t even safe for the majority of abusers!

Add into the equation the fact that many health care professionals simply don’t understand trends in drug abuse or what abuse-deterrent means. In fact, a 2014 study from John Hopkins found that around 33% of doctors believed most opioid abuse occurs via non-oral routes.

Even worse is that almost 50% of primary care doctors thought abuse-deterrent painkillers were less addictive. While they certainly present less risk of addiction, the pills themselves aren’t any less addictive.

This level of ignorance from medical professionals isn’t acceptable. Lest I sound too harsh, it’s understandable that a general practitioner may not have received the same training as, say, a thoracic surgeon. Still, in the midst of a country-wide opioid rampage, GPs should have some knowledge of how painkillers work.

Did you know patients can now sue doctors for overprescribing opioids?

Do We Have a Solution?

So, having examined the main points the New York Time’s article addressed – seriously, it’s a great article that you should go read now – what’s the solution? How can we, as a country, put an end to our collective painkiller addiction?

The solution lies somewhere between regulation, education, and increased access to treatment. What I mean is – while regulation and abuse-deterrent formulas work well as a short-term fix, they do nothing to address the overall problem.

abuse deterrent painkillers dont work
image via Flickr user AJC

Holding doctors and pharmacies accountable for prescribing and dispensing dangerous medication is important, but it simply isn’t enough. Look at our current situation. We have prescription monitoring programs in place in numerous states. There are abuse-deterrent meds on the market. Record numbers of people are still becoming addicted and dying as a result of painkiller abuse.

That’s where education and increased access to treatment becomes the necessary next step. Increasing education to adolescents, adults, and medical professionals will lead to both fewer prescriptions being written and more knowledge about the risks of each prescription that is written.

Increasing access to treatment is the second step of this one-two combo. People are always going to become addicted to opioids. It doesn’t matter if those opioids are medically prescribed (OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, etc.) or bought from the street (heroin).

Once an individual is addicted, what then? That’s where having greater access to treatment centers becomes invaluable. Allowing anybody and everybody who needs help to get that help is a must.

Things like money, insurance providers, and substance abuse benefits shouldn’t dictate whether someone can get to treatment. Unfortunately, in the current system, they do. We need to change that.

The combination of abuse-deterrent pills, stricter regulations on prescriptions, and increased education and access to treatment will end the opioid epidemic. It’s that simple.

Methadone is a lot more dangerous than it’s made out to be…

Is This the End of the Heroin Epidemic?

Massachusetts Once Again Leads the Charge in Fighting Heroin

Not too long ago, Lighthouse reported an interesting trend in addiction treatment happening in Massachusetts. Well, we’ve actually reported on a lot of interesting treatment initiatives in MA, but this one was a bit larger than the others.

To catch everybody up – Charlie Baker, Governor of Massachusetts, put together a sixteen-person think-tank called the Opioid Addiction Working Group. The job of this group, made up of “private sector experts,” was to come up with a number of recommendations for how MA can more effectively fight the opioid epidemic.

Well, they did just that. The Opioid Working Group came up with sixty-five strategic recommendations about how to fight abuse, addiction, and overdose in Massachusetts.

Sixty-five recommendations! They’re not messing around! More importantly, many of their ideas can be applied across the country to help stem the tide of painkiller and heroin abuse.

Find information on the Group’s key strategies, as well as some of their specific recommendations, below.

12 Key Strategies to Fight Opioid Abuse

The Opioid Addiction Working Group came up with twelve key strategies to help decrease opioid abuse and addiction. They are:

  • 1) Create New Pathways to Treatment – it seems like many struggling addicts use the ER and other cost/time intensive services to get into treatment. These are called ATS or acute treatment services. If those needing treatment had other pathways (less expensive and more personalized), there would be more resources to help others and healthcare professionals would have more time to help others.


  • 2) Increase Access to Medication-Assisted Therapies – while drugs like buprenorphine and methadone are controversial, they also help save lives. Both prisons and long-term, step-down levels of care (outpatient programs and sober homes) can implement medication-assisted therapies to help reduce relapse, overdose, and general criminal activity.


  • 3) Utilize Data to Identify Hot Spots & Deploy Appropriate Resources – the Working Group suggests that state governments should partner with local police, EMTs, and other emergency service professionals to gather recent and relevant data on substance abuse trends.


  • 4) Acknowledge Addiction as a Chronic Medical Condition – if primary care doctors screened and treated addiction like they screen and treat many other diseases, there would be “timely interventions and referrals to treatment.”


  • 5) Reduce the Stigma of Substance Use Disorders – the stigma and shame of addiction and drug abuse are often barriers to individuals seeking treatment. This stigma is also associated with other risks, including: subpar mental and physical health, leaving treatment before completion, relapse and recidivism, and others.


  • 6) Support Substance Use Prevention Education in Schools – while programs like DARE have only achieved marginal success, fact-based youth education programs can work to stem adolescent drug abuse.

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  • 7) Require All Practitioners to Receive Training about Addiction and Safe Prescribing Practices – if doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are unaware of the dangers of opioids, they’re more likely to prescribe them. Education on both addiction and effective prescribing of opioids will decrease the number of potentially dangerous prescriptions written each year.


  • 8) Improve the Prescription Monitoring Program – while this strategy touches specifically on Massachusetts’ prescription monitoring program, it can be applied nationwide.


  • 9) Require Manufactures and Pharmacies to Dispose of Unused Prescription Medication – if unused, expired, or otherwise non-medically needed opioids are left available, they’ll be diverted and misused. If they’re disposed of, they won’t. It’s that simple.


  • 10) Acknowledge that Punishment is Not the Appropriate Response to a Substance Use Disorder – Massachusetts has already begun this paradigm shift through the Gloucester Initiative. If this line of thinking can be carried nationwide, those suffering from addiction will be treated as sick rather than criminals.


  • 11) Increase Distribution of Naloxone to Prevent Overdose Deaths – Naloxone, widely known by its brand name Narcan, has the potential to save thousands of lives. It’s already made a large impact in states where it’s readily available to addicts, their families, and first responders.


  • 12) Eliminate Insurance Barriers to Treatment – many insurance providers will only approve inpatient treatment if an individual first fails outpatient or partial hospitalization. Removing this “fail first” method, as well as prior authorization, will allow more individuals struggling with addiction to receive the treatment they so desperately need.


Some Vital & Easy to Implement Recommendations

The above twelve-point strategic model is nothing short of revolutionary in addressing and treating substance abuse. Still, how can the ideas above be implemented across MA and the rest of the country?

That’s where specific recommendations become vital. Find a few of the many recommendations from the Opioid Working Group below. A full report from Gov. Baker’s panel of experts can be found here.

  • Increasing Treatment Access by Matching Demand and Capacity – this would allow anyone in a particular state to search and find addiction treatment that’s best suited for their individualized needs. An ideal way of implementing this is through a “real-time, statewide database of available treatment services.” Help could be as easy as running an internet search.


  • Increase the Number of Post-ATS Beds – this means wider access to post-hospital or inpatient treatment support services. Think things like sober living homes, community outpatient meetings, community twelve-step meetings and support groups, etc. These can be implemented through a community stipend and statewide grants.
new ways to help addicts
image via Mass.gov
  • Promote Integration of Mental Health, Primary Care, and Opioid Treatment – this is basically calling for an “one-stop-shop behavioral and mental health treatment policy.” While that may sound overwhelming, it’s not. Think statewide, uniform behavioral and mental health policies.


  • Support the Implementation of Substance Use Prevention Curricula in Schools – this can be accomplished through using evidence-based practices for educating youth. These are programs that are proven to reduce the abuse of opioids. In addition to using these programs in the community-picked appropriate grade levels, screening for at-risk youth and warning signs of adolescent sports injury opioid abuse can also be implemented.


  • Community Based Pregnancy Outreach – this would require prenatal and postpartum care providers to receive training about identifying, intervening, and treating pregnant or postpartum women abusing drugs. This can be implemented through adding regulations to individual states’ medical licensure boards.

Remember, these are only a very few of the sixty-five total recommendations from the Opioid Addiction Working Group. While they’re massive in scope, and most likely overwhelming to most, they’re also intensely practical.

States across the country can implement any of the recommendations on a fairly modest budget. Lives can be saved. Addiction can be treated. What are we waiting for?

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