The opioid crisis has touched nearly every state in the U.S., including Massachusetts, which has vowed to fight opioid abuse on all fronts. The number of deaths from opioid overdose and addiction consistently demands the attention of state officials, who have taken measures in recent years to respond to the public health emergency in the state.
Massachusetts is one of the top states with the highest rate of opiate addiction, according to data from the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA). Nearly 88 percent of drug overdose deaths in Massachusetts involved at least one opioid in 2018, according to NIDA’s data.
Heroin, an illegal opioid drug, is among the primary drugs that have led thousands to their deaths and left others in the grip of a life-threatening addiction.
For many people, heroin is a tough drug to quit. Users report intense highs and drug cravings, along with uncomfortable withdrawals that make it hard to stop using it entirely. Once a person is hooked on the rush of dopamine to the brain brought on by heroin use, they can get addicted to the feeling of getting high. They also can get addicted to avoiding what happens when they do stop.
Heroin detox is an option for people who want to get off the seesaw of using heroin and then stopping use only to relapse again. This pattern of starting and stopping can lead to relapse and overdose, which can end up costing users their lives.
Heroin users can go to drug rehabilitation centers throughout the state for help with their substance use disorder. Data from the state’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) show that in the fiscal year 2017, nearly 81,000 people received substance treatment services in Massachusetts.
Between fiscal years 2008 and 2017, heroin, along with alcohol, was the main substance people received treatment for. Between 2010 and 2017, heroin was the No. 1 leading primary substance among those seeking treatment.
According to the Chapter 55 report, which highlights the challenges of the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts, trends have shown that some state residents switched from legal prescription opioid use to illegal opioid use involving heroin and fentanyl, a more potent, deadly opioid. Authors of the report say that the increase happened possibly because users’ opiate use exceeded the limits of legally prescribed drugs.
One reason admissions for heroin addiction may have gone up among rehabs in Massachusetts is that, according to the report, illicit drugs, such as heroin, were becoming more available in the region. Citing data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the report shared that, “New England led all regions in the percentage of respondents who reported high heroin availability” between 2007 and 2014.
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While treating heroin is challenging, it is not impossible. Some drug rehabilitation facilities in Massachusetts are treating patients with heroin addiction with medication-assisted treatment, known as MAT. This approach combines FDA-approved prescription medications, behavioral therapies, and counseling to help people work through their addiction.
MAT has various benefits, including helping people avoid relapse while working to end their opioid dependence. Heroin detox involving the MAT approach can help people end their addiction safely by making withdrawal symptoms bearable and manageable. These symptoms, while usually not life-threatening, can be so uncomfortable that users will relapse and go back to using heroin just to avoid them.
The heroin withdrawal process can be taxing to the body and mind of a person who stops using heroin after chronic use. Physically and psychologically challenging symptoms can cause:
A MAT program can help patients manage these kinds of symptoms. It also addresses the intense cravings for the drug that derail so many efforts to get off the drug. The decision to enter and participate in a MAT program is up to each person. Addiction treatment looks different depending on the person in recovery, so this approach may not work for everyone. However, some report success with MAT programs because they:
MAT does have its share of criticism. Some people say that using medications to help people end their opiate addiction creates the problem of exchanging one chemical dependence over another. However, as SAMHSA notes, medications help people addicted to heroin and other opioids get through a really tough phase of addiction recovery. Without them, more people could face cravings and other hurdles that eventually lead to relapse.
Massachusetts officials have expressed support for MAT programs. In 2018, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker started the Medication Assisted Treatment Commission, which oversees:
Many aspects of addiction recovery are personal and unique to the individual in recovery. A person looking to detox from heroin may wonder what the general timeline looks like and how long heroin withdrawal will last.
How severe heroin withdrawal is and how long it lasts varies significantly from person to person. It is largely based on where a person is in terms of how dependent they are on the drug. Heroin detox could last from five to 10 days, again, depending on the person.
How frequently or how long a person has been using heroin and whether they use it with other drugs, such as alcohol, are significant factors. Other factors include:
A general timeline for heroin withdrawal could look like this:
Some people try to end their heroin dependence on their own terms, but that does not work out for everyone as planned and could make a dangerous situation worse. It is not recommended to attempt to end heroin addiction outside of a clinical setting, and quitting the drug abruptly in “cold turkey” fashion is also discouraged.
Detoxing from a dangerous, potent drug such as heroin with the help of professionals could benefit you. First, you will be monitored by medical and addiction care treatment staff who are familiar with the unique challenges of heroin detox and recovery, and they will know what to do if you encounter any complications while withdrawing from the drug.
They can track your vitals and administer medicines as needed. They also can set a tapering schedule to wean you off heroin as safely as possible and help you find a suitable treatment plan. If you follow a MAT program, they will be there to guide you. They will consider your needs, medical history, and substance use history when determining the next steps for your recovery.
MAT medications come with close supervision and can be administered only in clinical settings by a licensed professional. MAT participants also must follow certain program rules of the program and agree to receive monitored medical care as well as help with finding gainful employment.
Serenity at Summit can share more information with you about MAT and answer any questions you have. We understand that people have a choice in how they want to recover from addiction, so we listen to your concerns with the understanding that the goal is to help you find the best treatment options for your situation.
You can start taking steps toward your recovery from heroin addiction now, and detox is just a phone call away. Get in touch with us today so we can learn more about how to help you or your loved one.
Massachusetts Responds to the Opioid Epidemic. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mass.gov/massachusetts-responds-to-the-opioid-epidemic
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, April 03). Massachusetts: Opioid-Involved Deaths and Related Harms. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-summaries-by-state/massachusetts-opioid-involved-deaths-related-harms
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, November). Heroin. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
SAS. Geographic Fact Sheets. MA Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS). PDF from https://www.mass.gov/doc/admissions-statistics-statewide/download
Chapter 55 Data Visualization. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://chapter55.digital.mass.gov/
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020, April 29). Medication and Counseling Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment#medications-used-in-mat
Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Commission. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mass.gov/orgs/medication-assisted-treatment-mat-commission
"Today's Heroin Epidemic | VitalSigns | CDC." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 12 Feb. 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin/index.html