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The Opioid Epidemic: What can you do to help your clients?

Martha Teater, MA, LMFT, LCAS, LPC

Every year in May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services celebrates National Women’s Health Week. It may seem like a warm and fuzzy time for us to celebrate the great strides we’ve made in protecting women’s health…

But it’s not.

This year’s commemorative week came on the heels of some staggering news about women’s health. For the first time in many years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is documenting a drop in life expectancy for white women.

One of the reasons blamed for this is the stark reality of overdose deaths. Many of these deaths are unintentional overdoses of opioids and heroin. The CDC is calling the issue of opioid misuse and death an “epidemic” and is pushing for substantive change. New guidelines for prescribing these medications are being developed. There’s a heightened awareness of the need for behavioral treatment of pain.

No longer can we look the other way and assume that these deaths are confined to a certain type, class, race, or gender of person. This is hitting all types of people, women included.
Fifty-two people die from overdose every single day. This cause of death now outranks motor vehicle accident deaths.
Often the problem starts innocently enough. Maybe a woman has chronic pain, perhaps she has acute pain. Her doctor or dentist prescribes on opioid (Percocet, Oxycontin, hydrocodone, Vicodin, etc.), and within a very short time the problems can begin.

Changes in her brain structure and chemistry are happening, and of course she doesn’t know it. If she has any underlying depression or anxiety, the pills give her an instant boost. If she tries to stop the pills on her own she may feel miserable and desperate.

…And so the problem continues.

We aren’t talking about an addict on the streets with a needle in her arm. We’re talking about your mother, your daughter, your sister, your friend. It’s really up to us to reverse the devastating impact of this problem.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the weeks and months to come. Educate yourself about how you can help. Good resources include the National Safety Council, the CDC, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Many communities are taking matters into their own hands and agitating for change.

In honor of the women in our lives, let’s step up and take action to protect those we love from the impact of opioid misuse and overdose.

Before it’s too late.

What can you do to help your clients?

Know the signs of Opioid Use Disorder as defined by the DSM-5®.

Opioid Use Disorder – A Problematic pattern of opioid use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least two of the following, occurring within a 12-month period.

1. Opioids are often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control opioid use.
3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the opioid, use the opioid, or recover from its effects.
4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use opioids.
5. Recurrent opioid use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
6. Continued opioid use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of opioids.
7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of opioid use.
8. Recurrent opioid use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
9. Continued opioid use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
10. Tolerance
11. Withdrawal

Use the one-question screening from the new CDC guidelines on the treatment of chronic pain: "How many times in the past year have you used an illegal drug or used a prescription medication for non-medical reasons?"

The answer of one or more is positive. It is 100% sensitive and 73.5% specific. You won’t miss anyone who has the disorder, but there could be a few false positives where further investigation is needed.

Learn more:

Martha Teater, MA, LMFT, LCAS, LPC, trains across the U.S. and internationally on such topics as compassion fatigue, DSM-5, and the treatment of trauma. A prolific writer, she has published over 175 articles in newspapers and magazines, and is the coauthor of Overcoming Compassion Fatigue: A Practical Resilience Workbook.

Topic: Private Practice

Tags: Opioid Use Disorder | Overdose

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