American Epidemic of Opioid and Heroin Addiction

Over the past two decades, we’ve been experiencing a steep increase in opioids and heroin abuse. Overdoses have frighteningly become commonplace. The pain-killer drug addiction in America has become so dire that the government now claims it will take action.

White House Words

It appears that a commission has been launched to try and diffuse our rampant drug addiction crisis in this country. President Trump appointed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to chair a special commission. Their efforts will be aimed at battling the epidemic. They expect to work with law enforcement officials on local and state levels. Additionally, the plan is to work along side medical communities as well.

Governor Christie spoke about opioid and heroin use in our country as an epidemic. He also added, “Addiction is a disease. We need to treat it that way and we need to get people the help that they need to renew their lives and help become productive members of society and our families.”

The Rise in Use is a Killer

Between 1999 and 2014, the sale of opioid-based pain prescriptions quadrupled. As you may have read in Dr. Campbell’s newsletters or other GetThrive articles, the effects of this increase has been deadly. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the leading cause of unintentional death amongst Americans is prescription pill and heroin overdose.

Prescription pain killer abusers are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin than anyone else—even those addicted to alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine.

Latest Research

A study conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health showed the increased prevalence of heroin use amongst whites. Data was analyzed from surveys, which included over 75,000 participants who had used heroin. In the last decade, the percentage of addicts in the white population has increased significantly more than in non-white populations.

Another important revelation from this research was a definite link between misusing prescription opioids and eventual heroin use. In 2001, approximately 35% of heroin users had originally used prescription pain pills before graduating to heroin. By 2013, the data showed that over 50% of heroin addicts abused opioids prior to using heroin.

Clearly, there exists a need for greater awareness of the potential devastating effects of misusing opioid-based pain pills. Educational campaigns would certainly be beneficial. Hopefully, Washington’s plan to involve itself in battling this epidemic will also affect some success. This is a real problem and exploring alternatives for pain management is a positive action.

Am I Addicted?

If you or any of your loved ones have taken opioid-based medication (such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, or fentanyl), there are signs to observe if you’re concerned about addiction.

-You may be dependent because you feel withdrawal symptoms if you don’t take another pill.

– Even if your drug use is negatively affecting your job and/or relationships, you continue to take it (because the need to take it is controlling you.)

– You have less or no interest in activities you used to greatly enjoy.

– A lot of your money is being redirected to the cost of your medication (or heroin).

– You are committing illegal or unethical acts to get the drugs you need.

There is help if you are concerned for yourself or for another. Reach out to one of the many resources you can find online or through your healthcare provider. There is no shame in asking for assistance. We can all use some help now and then.



Is Fentanyl the New Killer?

A frightening new statistic was revealed recently: Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years old. This statement provokes many questions. One of them being, “Is Fentanyl one of the killers?”

Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein shared the data with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). “On an average day, 90 Americans will die from an opioid-related overdose.” He referred to the nearly 60,000 total drug overdose deaths annually as “horrifying.”

Opioids are a Big Problem

For 2017, it is estimated that well over half of the overdose deaths will again be from opioids, both natural and synthetic. Illegal drugs like heroin and opium, as well as prescribed drugs like Hydro- and Oxycodone, Morphine, and most commonly, Fentanyl, are the culprits in this epidemic.

Fentanyl, in particular, is becoming the largest danger to addicts, along with law enforcement and medical personnel alike. This is due to the increased use and abuse of the narcotic by itself, as well as its addition to other commonly abused drugs. Often, cocaine and heroin are combined with fentanyl (sometimes unbeknownst to the user or first responder) with an unpredictable and deadly result.

Fentanyl Facts

Fentanyl is a very potent synthetic opioid analgesic (pain medication), which was first developed in 1959. Similar to morphine, it is 50 to 100 times more potent, though some versions produced can be as much as 100,000 times stronger.  Just 2 milligrams—equivalent to a few grains of salt, can be deadly.

It is most often used as a post-surgical treatment for pain, or to manage chronic or severe pain. In prescription form, it goes by names like Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®.. On the street, illegal forms go by names like Apache, China Girl, China White, TNT, Tango and Cash, and others.

Proper Usage of Fentanyl is Fine

In and of itself, fentanyl is not problematic. In fact, it is an extremely safe and effective pain reliever when used as directed. The creation of the fentanyl patch in the mid-1990’s was seen as a major breakthrough in palliative pain management. It is extremely versatile in both usage and administration, and as of 2102, fentanyl in all forms became the most commonly used synthetic opioid.


It is prescribed and administered in multiple formats:

  • Intravenously, via injection or I.V./catheter
  • Transdermal patches
  • Dissolvable tablets or lozenges
  • As a lollipop
  • Sublingual (under the tongue) or nasal spray

Fentanyl is sometimes used as part of surgical anesthesia and as a spinal or epidural analgesic for many routine medical procedures and is often prescribed to manage pain for cancer patients.

Abuse and Concealment Make it Deadly

Like most “safe” prescription drugs, fentanyl becomes problematic when it is misused. Manufacturers have made it harder to extract or concentrate it from legal prescriptions, but the illegal manufacture of fentanyl is on the rise. Since such a small dose can be deadly, these illicit sources are the cause of most fatalities, as they have no quality control.

Taken alone or mixed with heroin or cocaine, illegally made fentanyl is an extreme danger to the user, as well as anyone else who may come into contact with it. Numerous cases of the general public and first responders accidentally inhaling or otherwise coming into contact with fentanyl are increasing, some with fatal results.

Staying Safe

Overdoses are the killer, but how can they be prevented? Proper usage, storage, and monitoring of prescribed fentanyl products are important, especially around children. Avoiding recreational use of fentanyl, along with cocaine and heroin are critical.

If you or someone you know has an addiction problem, seek treatment, and refrain from touching any unknown powder, residue or container. It could be the last thing you touch. In case of suspected Fentanyl or other opioid overdose:

  • Call 911 Immediately
  • DO NOT touch any paraphernalia, container, or powder on the victim
  • If trained and available, administer Naloxone or Narcan


One group working to stem the tide of opioid abuse is Operation Prevention—a joint effort between the DEA and Discovery Education.  Information can be found here:

Overdoses don’t have to be the number one killer of people under 50. Proper information, education, and coordination with medical and law enforcement professionals can turn the tide.  For more information on drugs, addiction, and solutions for addicts, turn to



When Painkillers Can Kill You

Certainly, there is a place for painkillers when you are in dire need. And although doctors are not as quick to prescribe opioids as they once were, there is something you may not know. When taking opioid painkillers along with certain anxiety or sleep medications, the risk you are taking may be death.

The Painful Irony

The reason why clinicians prescribe medication is to heal, reduce symptoms, and/or relieve pain. The intent is to treat and make the patient feel better. The problem we are seeing lately, however, is that combining different medications can create a dangerous risk—and the patients are not properly informed.

This is not necessarily the fault of the prescriber.

Opioid Conflict

Since the beginning of this century, there has been a “fourfold increase in deaths from overdose involving opioid painkillers.” This is just in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been warning Americans of the many dangers involved in opioid use.

Opioid-based painkillers are highly addictive. We’ve also witnessed a rampant increase in heroin use (and overdose) from those who graduate from pain pill use. But, a lesser-known peril derived from opioid use is when it’s combined with taking benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are widely used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.

Thirty percent of overdoses involving prescription opioids show the presence of benzodiazepines in the bloodstream.

What are Benzodiazepines?

This is just one example of how, as consumers and patients, we can be so uninformed. Benzodiazepines are a class of medications often prescribed to treat sleep problems and anxiety. They work on the central nervous system to reduce the activity of nerve cells in the brain.

Some brand names of benzodiazepines are:

– Xanax

– Valium

– Klonopin

– Ativan


Many people have been prescribed and taken these medications and had no idea they were called “benzodiazepines.”

Both opioid-based meds and benzos can create sedation, impair thought, suppress respiration, and impair physical judgment. Taking them concurrently significantly increases your risk of falling (having an accident), falling into a coma, or not being able to breathe.

A Bad Mix

A recent study researched data on 300,000 patients between the years 2001 and 2013. All of the patients had been prescribed an opioid painkiller. They found that there was a significantly higher risk of an overdose or an ER visit when the patient also took a benzodiazepine.

Here’s a head-shaking fact: According to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine, over 90% of patients who survived a prescription-opioid overdose, continued to be prescribed opioids (most of the time by the same original prescriber.)

What To Do?

It’s a tricky dilemma because the “system” hasn’t quite figured out how to best inform patients so that they truly understand the risks of combining opioids with benzodiazepines. Since 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required black box warnings (the highest level of alert) on product labels. But who reads labels?

There are also patient focused medication guides for opioids and benzodiazepines. But these type of warnings aren’t being heeded.

Another concern is that communication between doctors, hospitals, and other facilities isn’t always possible. One clinician may prescribe an anti-anxiety med, while another source prescribes an opioid-based med. Pharmacists, doctors, and medical facilities may need to be more proactive about explain the dangers of drug combinations. But who has that availability of time and detailed explanation?

It seems this is the type of problem that needs to be addressed by multiple entities. As a patient, one might want to ask questions and do research before combining medications. In the meanwhile, proactivity by all parties will be helpful. Additionally, aside from medication, patients can also research other forms of pain treatment and stress reduction. GetThrive offers a wealth of guidance for best health care practices.


Is Pot Better For Pain Than Pills?

Medical marijuana has a wealth of benefits for people with pain. Although doctors prescribe opioid medication for extreme discomfort, a recent study showed that patients actually preferred cannabis. Does this mean pot works better?

Weed-ing out Some Facts

Cannabis (in plant form) and cannabis oil offer health merits such as helping with glaucoma, pain management, and improving appetite.

Cannabidiol Extract (CBD) is a chemical compound in marijuana, but without the THC. THC is psychoactive; CBD oil doesn’t get you high. Cannabidiol essential oil has an incredibly long list of health advantages without undesirable side effects.

Pain relief and decreased inflammation are the primary positive yields from CBD oil use. Approximately 17 states across the U.S. have approved this essential oil as a valid, medicinal treatment. The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology published a 2013 study that showed CBD oil’s benefits are linked to:

  • Reduced nausea and vomiting
  • Reduced risk of seizures
  • Battling psychotic disorders
  • Reduced inflammation and battling against inflammatory diseases
  • Lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia onset
  • Reduced growth of cancer cells
  • Reduced anxiety and depression

Recent Research

The University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria recently conducted a study. The Canadian research found that patients prefer using cannabis over opioid pills to treat chronic pain and mental health issues.

Over 250 patients were surveyed regarding their use of cannabis for pain. Over 60 percent reported that they used cannabis instead of other prescribed medicines, which included opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. One of the main reasons they preferred using cannabis was because they felt they had better symptom management.

They also reported that cannabis had fewer side effects than the prescription pills. Overall, the response from the participants using cannabis (instead of opioids) was that “they felt safer.”

Cannabis IS Safer

The sale of opioid-based pain prescriptions quadrupled from 1999 to 2014. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the leading cause of unintentional death amongst Americans is prescription pill and heroin overdose.

It’s also true that doctors have been careful not to overprescribe in the past couple of years. Originally, the pharmaceutical company claimed that opioid-based medicines were not addictive. Since the drug company lost a major lawsuit, and we see the epidemic-numbers of abuse and addiction, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency finally decided to step in. Thankfully, the market is shrinking, and this year, manufacturing of opioids will be reduced by 25%.

According to the U.S. DEA drug sheet, “no deaths from marijuana overdose have ever been recorded.”

Certainly, a person’s ability to make safe choices while on cannabis can be impaired. There have been deaths related to the behavioral effects from marijuana use. But as far as dying directly from an overdose of pot, it would be almost impossible. A 2006 report in American Scientist claimed that in order to cause a fatality, a person would need to smoke or eat 1,000 times the usual dose of cannabis.

This material does not condone nor deter any person from using cannabis or taking prescription opioids. It is a personal decision (made with your health care provider) what course of treatment is best when you are in dire pain. And of course, there are other paths of treatment as well. To read more about this and other topical health care articles, check out




Say “No” to Flakka!

If you live in Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, or New York you’ve probably heard of the devastating, synthetic drug called Flakka. Its effects on users and the innocent nearby can often be deadly, making it one of the worst epidemics ever.

What is Flakka?

Coined as the “Zombie-maker,” Flakka is a synthetic, man-made drug that looks like chunks of white crystals. It can be smoked, injected, or snorted. It gets its name from the Spanish slang “la flacca” meaning “beautiful woman.” Its chemical name is alpha-PVP. Another street name for the substance is “gravel” (because it looks like the rocks at the bottom of a fish tank.) It’s also frighteningly referred to as “$5 Insanity.”

Flakka is stronger than other synthetics such as K2, Molly, or bath salts. And, it’s not completely illegal to sell or buy. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) can place a temporary ban, but until Federal laws are in place, manufacturers can find loopholes. Perhaps on the $5 package purchased at the local gas station, the label may read, “Not for Human Consumption.” But you can still buy it and smoke it or shoot it.

What Does Flakka Do?

If the user is lucky and doesn’t overdose, he can feel a high similar to that of cocaine. It’s cheaper and lasts longer, but the dosages are extremely precarious. No one can say how much a “safe” dosage entails. Flakka lingers in the brain for a long time, which can easily cause damage to the nervous system. Overdoses happen quickly and often.

We have molecules that keep our levels of dopamine and serotonin in check. Those neurohormones regulate our moods. Flakka foils the job of those molecules and allows the brain to become “flooded” with serotonin and dopamine. At first, the high must feel magnificent. But it doesn’t last, and it gets ugly—and extremely dangerous to everyone around, even the innocent sober.

Even a small overdose, which is extremely common, can create a delirium and paranoia. The user often becomes violent. She discovers complete inhibition along with superhuman strength. She also becomes impervious to pain. This is a recipe for creating a community of unstoppable, vicious attackers. It’s already begun.

Flakka’s Damage

South Florida has been hit the hardest by the Flakka epidemic. The number of users spiked in 2015. Last July, there were four or five hospitalizations each day for Flakka overdoses just in Broward County, Florida.

When the user enters the “delirium” state, his body temperature soars, sometimes up to 105 degrees. This is why we will often find users naked because they strip off their clothes hoping to cool down. The high body temperature often leads to permanent kidney damage and/or brain damage.

Because users report seeing and hearing “demons” while they’re high, they often attack other people, without provocation. The Hulk-like strength of users leaves their victims unable to fend for themselves.

It often takes four or five police officers to subdue the hysterics. Even then, it becomes enormously capricious because the user doesn’t feel pain and won’t give up. Law enforcement sometimes needs to implement harsh tactics to get the person under control, just to get them to a hospital.

Horrific Details

Unfortunately, there are hundreds of chronicled and videotaped Flakka episodes. One man stood on a rooftop naked, armed, ready to snipe innocent passersby. Another user tried to break into a Florida police department. Another man shouted in the streets that he was God—after he had sex with a tree in public. And another impaled himself on a fence while running from authorities.

Just this week a fraternity brother at Florida State University, for no obvious reason, stabbed an unwitting couple to death. They were sitting outside their home enjoying a balmy evening. By the time police arrived at the scene the 19-year old was allegedly eating chunks of skin off the dead man’s face. The police taser didn’t deter the student. It took several men and a dog to remove him from the scene. He, too, suffered intense physical trauma as a result of his overdose and grueling arrest.

What’s Next?

Between 2010 and 2015, synthetic drug use, tallied by national crime lab reports, increased 2,000 percent. This year, however, we are seeing a slight decline; perhaps because late last fall, China agreed to make the production of Flakka illegal. Talk to your children, neighbors, co-workers, and anyone you can about the dangers of synthetic drug use. Awareness will be our first line of defense.