Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Drug overdoses often follow periods of sobriety, abstinence

With the untimely death of Garrett Reid, 29, son of Eagles’ head coach Andy Reid, addiction is once again in the spotlight, but the perils of addiction can be found anywhere, including here in Mercer County. In fact, according to a 2011 report issued by the state Department of Addiction Services, 31 percent of Mercer County residents who received substance abuse treatment struggled with addiction to heroin and other opiates.

After a highly publicized bout with addiction, most people who knew Garrett said he was a highly motivated individual who appeared to have overcome the challenges of his past.  The problem with addiction, however, is it can not be cured; rather, the addiction becomes a disease in remission.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction, like other chronic diseases, often involves cycles of relapse and remission. I work with a lot of families who have lost loved ones to drug overdoses. Many of these families say their loved one appeared to be doing well prior to the overdose. Unfortunately, that’s often the case.

Most opiate overdoses occur after periods of abstinence or sobriety. An opiate addict develops a tolerance to the drug quite rapidly, thus necessitating more or a stronger dosage of the drug to achieve the same effect. Opiate addicts typically enter treatment on such a high dose – and with such a high tolerance – of the drug that it would most likely be fatal to an individual who was not addicted.

As addicts recover, their opiate tolerance decreases. If a person relapses, he or she is likely to consume the same dose that individual had become accustomed to before sobriety. Because this person had abstained from opiate use and has little to no tolerance to the drug, relapses often result in overdoses.

Addiction is a devastating public health issue, whether it impacts the son of a professional football coach or a complete stranger. Unfortunately, it usually takes the death of a public figure to shine light on the devastating toll that addiction takes on society.

Tom Allen
Executive Director
Summit Behavioral Health