Opioid crisis: How to help families with addicted loved ones

The opioid crisis has touched us all in one way or another — whether they know it or not. And now add overdose deaths.

For people who abuse opioids — opiates such as oxycodone, fentanyl, heroin and cocaine — the experience can be catastrophic. It can cause withdrawal symptoms and loss of the ability to form new memories, with delayed rehabilitation. Those who misuse the drugs often become addicted, often without realizing it, which can lead to overdose.

For parents of children who abuse drugs, it can be a challenge. Those who are dealing with this epidemic often feel helpless, or if they do know what they’re facing, they’re uncertain about the best way to help.

It’s a particularly challenging problem in Missouri, a state where I serve as the associate director of the prevention and recovery resources of the Missouri Department of Mental Health and Mental Health Services. This department has a mission to improve the lives of Missourians with mental illness, and the opioid crisis touches many families and individuals across the state.

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The number of deaths from opioid overdose surpassed 70,000 for the first time last year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug overdose claims more than 63,000 lives every year in the United States — more than the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents.

That includes deaths from heroin and fentanyl; it also includes more common painkillers including oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxycontin and methadone.

Of all the painkillers sold in the U.S., fentanyl is the leading cause of death. It is a schedule 1 drug (i.e., it’s considered to be extremely dangerous and addictive) in Missouri, and is required to be stored in sealed bags in a locked container with a no-touch-ready glass or plastic container.

The key to helping parents and their loved ones dealing with this epidemic is support and resources. Here are several resources for parents to assist with their recovery.

Advice on Recovery Resources: Hundreds of support organizations help families, friends and neighbors. They provide information, support, respite and a way to deal with addiction. It can be overwhelming to navigate a complicated recovery process, but with helpful resources, people can make better decisions about recovery, and be less likely to relapse.

Support Services: Support services include doctors and clinicians, therapists, faith-based organizations, and addiction prevention groups. Individuals in recovery also need this support.

Prevention and Awareness Resources: The Missouri Department of Mental Health and Mental Health Services (DMHMS) advises families to continue to pay attention to what’s going on with their loved ones, to look for warning signs of relapse, and to reach out to places such as housing, doctor and nonprofit organizations. The state also hosts National Plan to End Child and Teen Opioid Abuse workshops to promote health, safety and recovery.

Specialized services: County-based, state and county-offered substance abuse services can also help. DMHMS also offers specialized methadone maintenance therapy to help people with opioid addiction, many of whom have children or grandchildren.

Support Services: Residential detoxification programs are particularly helpful. Families can take advantage of these services if they’re in the area. They help reduce recidivism, hospitalizations and abuse of other drugs, and can prevent siblings and children from getting in the same situation.

Hospitals and providers: County residential detox and residential and recovery housing help families with addiction if they are in a region with available services.

Local government programs: The state makes available resources to local governments, which can offer these services to residents. The Missouri Municipal League and Missouri Municipal Hospital Association also make public information available.

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