The Comeback of Meth in Ohio

In the last blog post, we addressed recent demographic changes in the nation’s drug epidemic related to overdoses, highlighting that more African Americans have been dying from the opioid pandemic than ever before. However, we are not only seeing changes in who uses, but also in what is being used. Over the last couple of years, methamphetamine is seeing a huge comeback, especially in Ohio. While meth only accounted for about 3% of overdoses in Ohio only 6 years ago, this number is now up to 25% in 2021. In 2015, there were 96 fatal methamphetamine related overdoses.

By 2020, this number grew more than tenfold to 1060. Why are so many people dying as a result of meth use even though this drug is not usually known to lead to overdoses? That is because meth, just like other substances, is increasingly being laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

When we asked our OhioSTART community partners who serve individuals in the child welfare system about their experiences regarding the return of methamphetamines, their reports were consistent with the quantitative data. A behavioral health supervisor stressed the danger of meth use saying that “with fentanyl being added to meth, meth becomes more dangerous as there is now a greater risk for overdose due to the addition of fentanyl.” One peer recovery supporter explained that “meth is so easily accessible and has lower fatality rates and, quite frankly, is easier to make, and is cheaper.”  She further added that “the side effects allow you to be more alert as opposed to other drugs that make you nod out or become unconscious, so it’s no wonder there’s been a surge.”

This has important policy and practice implications. For example, harm reduction approaches like fentanyl test strips or naloxone kits should receive more attention in areas that have seen a rise in methamphetamine use to prevent accidental overdoses.

Sources:

https://www.harmreductionohio.org/meth-overdose-deaths-soar-in-ohio-and-not-much-is-being-done-about-it/

 

The Changing Face of the Opioid Epidemic

Over the years, the opioid epidemic in this country has often been described as an issue that  mostly affects White and rural populations.

New evidence suggests that this is no longer an accurate depiction. A recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides data showing that opioid overdose deaths are skyrocketing among one specific population: non-Hispanic Black Americans.

The numbers mentioned in the report are alarming and they show that the characteristic of the epidemic is rapidly shifting. Between 2014 and 2017, fatal opioid overdoses among Black Americans that involved any opioid increased by 230%, and overdose deaths caused by synthetic opioids increased by 818%. This increase was highest for Black Americans compared to any other race/ethnic group. The report also lists adjusted opioid overdose death rates for the five US states that are affected the most, comparing rates of non-Hispanic Black Americans with the overall rate, painting a similar picture of the situation. One of the main reasons provided for this development is that other substances, such as cocaine, are increasingly being laced with the synthetic drug fentanyl.

A similar trend is emerging in Ohio. A study by Larochelle and colleagues that was published earlier this month revealed that between 2018 and 2019, the overdose death rate in Ohio for non-Hispanic Whites slightly increased from 42.0 to 45.2 per 100,000, while the rate for non-Hispanic Blacks jumped from 35.5 to 51.6 per 100,000. The SAMHSA brief leaves no doubt when it states that “regardless of how the data are represented, it is clear that Black/African Americans across the U.S. are substantially affected by the opioid crisis.”

The face of the epidemic is changing. Consequently, prevention and intervention efforts need to be adjusted to respond to this cultural shift of the epidemic.

 

References:

Larochelle, M. R., Slavova, S., Root, E. D., Feaster, D. J., Ward, P. J., Selk, S. C., … & Samet, J. H. (2021). Disparities in Opioid Overdose Death Trends by Race/Ethnicity, 2018–2019, From the HEALing Communities Study. American Journal of Public Health, 111(10), 1851-1854.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: The Opioid Crisis and the Black/African American Population: An Urgent Issue. Publication No. PEP20-05-02-001. Office of Behavioral Health Equity. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2020.

 

 

 

When is Substance Use a Reason for Concern?

Undoubtedly, substance use is an accepted behavior in today’s society. Data from a large national survey reveal that around 60% of Americans aged 12 or older used some form of substance within the last month. The most commonly consumed drugs are alcohol and tobacco followed by marijuana and prescription pain relievers. Substance use is part of mainstream society. This is the most evident for alcohol, for example the beer at a football game or the glass of wine with dinner.

Most Americans are able to consume substances without having to face any negative consequences associated with the use. Behaviors related to the consumption of alcohol and other substances are not a black or white issue but instead fall on a spectrum or continuum. Some individuals do not use at all, some consume very little, and others use regularly. So how do we know if someone’s substance use behaviors have become problematic?

Professionals such as physicians, social workers, or counselors usually look at a number of indicators to determine whether an individual’s substance use has reached a level that could be considered problematic. They ask questions such as the following: Has the person attempted to cut down on substances but failed to do so? Have responsibilities related to family or employment been neglected because of drugs or alcohol? Have friends or family members ever commented on the amount or frequency of use? Has the person ever used substances to deal with stress or uncomfortable states? Does the individual experience withdrawal symptoms when not using?

Are drugs or alcohol often on the person’s mind? A pragmatic indicator for problematic substance use is whether the alcohol or drug use has caused complications in the person’s life. For example, have there been any DUIs? Is the use causing physical or mental health problems? Is the use putting a strain on interpersonal relationships? Has the use negatively impacted work duties? If this is the case, then seeking professional help could be useful as it can be challenging to tackle addiction alone. A licensed professional will then assess the issue further.

 

Sources:

https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt29393/2019NSDUHFFRPDFWHTML/2019NSDUHFFR1PDFW090120.pdf

What Are Drug Courts And Do They Work?

One specific part of the OhioSTART intervention is something referred to as “family treatment drug courts.” Readers might ask themselves: What are drug courts and do they work? So let’s answer the first question: What are drug courts? Drug courts are “specialized court docket programs that target criminal defendants and offenders, juvenile offenders, and parents with pending child welfare cases who have alcohol and other drug dependency problems.”

In other words, drug courts specifically target offenders that have a history of problematic substance use. The main idea behind drug courts is to divert offenders with substance use issues to treatment instead of jail. The primary goals of drug courts are to lower recidivism, reduce substance use, and help rehabilitate individuals. The drug court model is unique because of the multidisciplinary teams they employ and the comprehensive resources that they entail.

Social workers and treatment professionals work alongside the judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys that are typically seen in the courtroom setting. Drug courts are characterized by close interactions with the judge, incentives and sanctions for behaviors, monitoring through drug testing, linkage with treatment, and celebration of accomplishments through graduations.

Now let’s address the second question: Are drug courts effective? The short answer is yes, they tend to be. An analysis of around 2000 drug court graduates found that less than 20% were re-arrested within one year and less than 30% were re-arrested within two years of drug court graduation. But they are not only effective in reducing recidivism. A national study comparing drug court participants with those not enrolled in such program found that drug court enrollees entered addiction treatment faster, stayed there longer, and were more likely to be reunified with their children.

Lastly, drug courts also have an economic value. The White House highlighted this aspect when it referred to a study that found that “every $1 spent on drug courts yields more than $2 in savings in the criminal justice system alone”. All of this is not to say that drug courts are flawless or that they are 100% effective, but offering these specialized dockets to offenders with addiction histories seems to be of value.

Sources:

National Institute of Justice. (2020). Overview of drug courts. Retrieved from: https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/overview-drug-courts

Office of National Drug Control Policy. (n.d.). Drug courts. Retrieved from: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/ondcp/ondcp-fact-sheets/drug-courts-smart-approach-to-criminal-justice

Roman, J., Townsend, W., & Bhati, A. S. (2003). Recidivism rates for drug court graduates: Nationally based estimates.

Addiction: A Family Illness

Substance use disorders are a problem that affect more than just the individuals afflicted with them. When people are addicted to drugs or alcohol, the abuse not only creates issues in their lives, but it also causes pain, heartache, or even trauma for their loved ones. Whether it is the young child of someone addicted to crystal meth who is removed from the home, or the spouse who has witnessed her partner suffer the detrimental consequences of alcoholism, or the parents who suddenly lose their adolescent child to an opiate overdose, addiction is a disease that has a long lasting impact on the entire family unit. And while we mostly think about treatment and recovery for the individual with the substance use disorder diagnosis, we tend to forget about the loved ones. Their pain is often overlooked. When addiction rips families apart, it creates deep wounds.

External support can be helpful, in some cases even necessary, to process the damage that the substances and the behaviors associated with use have caused. Luckily, there are organizations dedicated to support loved-ones of those dealing with addiction. Al-Anon is a mutual help group that was created in the early 1950s whose mission it is to “help friends and families of alcoholics (…) by welcoming and giving comfort to families and friends of alcoholics.”  Similarly, Alateen was founded to help teens cope with the effects of parental drinking. Other organizations like Nar-Anon are dedicated to help friends and family of those abusing other substances. In addition, there are local groups around central Ohio. If you or someone you know could benefit from supportive services, check out the following website with local resources: https://www.columbus.gov/publichealth/programs/Alcohol-and-Drug-Abuse/Supportive-Services-for-Loved-Ones/

 

 

Addressing Dual Diagnosis in the Addiction Field

What is dual diagnosis? Dual diagnosis is the term used to describe instances in which individuals have multiple co-existing issues. In the addiction treatment field, this often refers to a person meeting the diagnosis for both a substance use disorder as well as a mental health diagnosis. A person entering treatment with an opioid use disorder and major depression would be an example of someone experiencing dual diagnosis. So how common is it? Dual diagnosis is everything but uncommon.

Results from a recent national survey (NSDUH, 2020) showed that close to 10 million U.S. adults experienced dual diagnosis in 2019. The same survey revealed that about half of all adults dealing with addiction in the U.S. also experienced mental illness. To put this in perspective, out of every ten individuals presenting to addiction treatment, five might also experience mental health symptoms. So how should dual diagnosis be addressed? Historically, substance use problems and mental health symptoms have been treated separately. However, this view is outdated.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (2020) explains that “the best treatment for dual diagnosis is integrated intervention, when a person receives care for both their diagnosed mental illness and substance use disorder.” NAMI further states that “the idea that someone cannot treat your depression because you are also drinking is outdated — current thinking requires both issues be addressed.” If you or a loved one experiences dual diagnosis, treatment will be most effective if both the addiction and the mental health component are understood and addressed.

 

 

The Impact of COVID-19 on Overdose Deaths

In January of 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States. Since then, the U.S. has recorded 33 million cases and more than 500,000 deaths related to COVID-19. The novel Coronavirus has not just created a worldwide pandemic, it has also exacerbated an already existing public health crisis in this country: The opiate epidemic.

Over the last two decades, overdose deaths continuously climbed every year from less than 20,000 in 1999 to around 70,000 recorded deaths in 2017. Then, the numbers finally seemed to reach a plateau in 2018 and 2019. However, in 2020, over 81,000 Americans lost their lives as a result of overdoses, which is a sharp increase compared to the 69,000 deaths recorded just 12 months prior. The 2020 figure is the highest number ever recorded. Unfortunately, the predicted numbers indicate that next year’s figures will be even higher.

On the one hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has created isolation, stress, and fear, which are known drivers of substance use behaviors. On the other hand, treatment providers and mutual help groups had to move many of their services to telehealth to follow public health recommendations. However, help is still out there. If you struggle with addiction and want help or you know someone that does, you can contact the Franklin County Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health (ADAMH) Board at 614-224-1057 or go to https://adamhfranklin.org/.

 

Vicarious Trauma and Peer Recovery Supporters

Peer supporters are people who have been successful in the addiction recovery process. They are trained to provide for people struggling with addiction, mental health, or any form of trauma, a crucial aspect for one’s recovery process. Peers offer an emotional connection that is necessary to prevent feelings of isolation from the person struggling. However, the supporter’s role can be emotionally taxing on its own, and it is not uncommon for a supporter to develop what is known as vicarious trauma.

Vicarious trauma, also known as secondary trauma, is the gradual change or disruption of feelings/emotions, inner thoughts, beliefs and spirit as a result of working with people with traumatic experiences or stories. Secondary trauma is commonly noted among mental health professionals, social workers and those who work closely with traumatized people, including peer recovery supporters.

When a person is actively engaged in helping someone who has experienced trauma, the line between empathy and vicarious trauma is likely blurred, leading to feelings of helplessness, exhaustion and guilt, as well as deliberate avoidance of the individual being supported. For peer supporters in particular, this exposure could lead them to re-experience their own past trauma or experience relapse with alcohol or drug addiction.

Repeated exposure to secondary trauma can create a disconnect between the trauma survivor and the peer supporter if the relationship is not properly maintained. However, there are resources available to build and maintain resiliency in relationships with clients. Peers can consult their hiring agencies for ongoing support and have discussions that promote optimism. Friends and family can utilize online resources such as the Safe Coping Skills worksheet and the Trauma-Informed Care Implementation Resource Center, which offers various free resources from trauma-informed care experts regarding the impact of trauma on health and methods to improve patient outcomes and navigate one’s own trauma.

Peer recovery supporters experiencing vicarious trauma can also practice self-care, both through individual coping strategies, such as proper exercise and sleep, and organizational commitments, including scheduling self-care groups, consulting outside facilitators to manage group sessions, hosting stress-reducing and bonding activities and frequently assessing a staff member’s self-care needs.

Purdue Pharma Offers Reparations for Individuals Affected by Opioid Crisis

The aggressive marketing and pharmaceutical sales of opioids in the past decade have left a devastating wake of addiction and death in the United States. Now, individuals who have been harmed by prescription opioids have the chance to file claims against Purdue Pharma, the maker of the painkiller OxyContin. Until July 30 of this year, people who have suffered from the effects of prescription opioid use will have the opportunity to seek compensation.

As of June 11, 2020, about 17,800 personal-injury claims have been filed by people who believe they or their loved ones were harmed by these prescription opioids.

Purdue Pharma is widely believed to be the instigator of the opioid epidemic. In 2019, the company declared bankruptcy which brought the more than 2,000 lawsuits against the company to a halt. “Purdue Pharma and its owner, the Sackler family, reportedly set aside $10 billion or more and put the company into a public trust to pay individual victims’ claims,” according to Newsomelaw.com. The company launched a $23.8 million advertising campaign to announce its opportunity for individuals to file claims.

This bankruptcy is unusual in that the implications of this company’s actions have spurred a national health crisis that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and created a case for reparations beyond what can be quantified. It cemented a systemic crisis that will take years to undo.

It was also complicated by the sordid actions of the Sackler family, Purdue Pharma’s owners, who had transferred about $1 billion to foreign locations prior to filing bankruptcy. The case which involves Purdue Pharma filing for bankruptcy, also proposes a settlement worth more than $10 billion over time, plus $3 billion from the Sackler family over the next seven years, and an additional $1.5 billion from the sale of the family’s global pharmaceutical business, Mundipharma. It would also require that the family give up ownership of Purdue Pharma.

If you or a loved one has been harmed by the effects of opioids sold by Purdue Pharma, you can access a list of instructions on how to file a claim here.

Hotline Calls Spike During Stay-at-Home Orders

In a time of stay-at-home orders, heightened financial stress, and a lack of in-person resources that usually exist, incidents of child maltreatment and domestic abuse are increasing while reported cases are falling. Children are not receiving access to educators, who are often the front-line defense in keeping children safe. Child welfare workers are scrambling to ensure that children continue to receive the care they need despite the desperate circumstances.

An article by USA Today reported that educators including teachers, administrators, and counselors report about one in every five claims of child mistreatment. With children sequestered to their homes and limitations placed on who can visit them, reporting a case of mistreatment is becoming a task that is more precarious than ever. While child caseworkers are limiting visits to their clients’ homes for fear of spreading the virus, they will not become absent from these children’s lives.

Welfare officials are adapting to the virtual environment and setting up video calls to do walkthroughs of children’s home environments. They are also arranging in person visits with higher risk cases, or children who may be in immediate danger. These cases may be addressed through visits in the child’s backyard.

Parents are also facing heightened stress as they learn to manage 24/7 childcare, whether they are working remotely and/or are required to go into the office as essential workers. According to USA Today, “Calls to the group’s National Parent Helpline for families in crisis have spiked 30% in the past week, Pion-Berlin said. They’re coming from mothers and fathers stressed about child care, food insecurity and other fears arising from the coronavirus crisis.”

The Columbus Police Department has also seen an “alarming increase” of domestic violence calls since the stay-at-home order has been in place.

If you are dealing with a difficult home environment, you are not alone. Here are some resources that are available and ready to help during this time of crisis:

Franklin County Children Services Child Abuse Hotline: 614-229-7000

Ohio Domestic Violence Network

CAP4KIDS

National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-422-4453