June 16th, 2014

“I’ll be the first to say to you: New York State has a problem with heroin addiction, and it is a growing problem,” Mr. Cuomo said on Wednesday in a speech announcing the move, his first major address on heroin. “In the ’70s we had a heroin epidemic. This is worse than what we went through before.” The New York Times

17463078_sI was glad to see New York Governor Andrew Cuomo address the heroin problem in the State. As I have been talking about in my blog, this is much more than an epidemic — It is a crisis! And, not just in New York State, but across the country. It is the result of many things, but much of the increase in heroin use among suburban teens and a growing number of adults coincides with a sharp rise in the use of prescription painkiller pills, which are quite similar to heroin.

According to the NY Times article, “the announcement comes as the resurgent abuse of heroin has been discussed intensively in Albany. For weeks, lawmakers have been meeting treatment providers, insurance companies and families who have lost relatives to overdoses to discuss heroin addiction and the opioid pill abuse that serves as a frequent gateway to heroin.”

Back in my April blog, I addressed the news stories that were coming out about young adults and teens struggling with heroin addiction, and the shock and awe that families felt when they suddenly realized that they had a loved one who was using. At that time, Vermont, Governor Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State message to the heroin addiction. So I can say that I have seen this coming — the drugs are no longer just in the cities, but they are now in our suburbs, rural communities and high schools across the country. That is scary!

I am glad to see that the Governor’s legislation involves new officers being added to drug units around the state. It is a good start. I believe that Governor Cuomo’s efforts are a good start and can make a difference, but we ALL have to be vigilant, too. We must work together! The most important thing is for everyone, particularly parents and the healthcare community, to understand and recognize the symptoms of addiction, and to seek help if you suspect there is a problem. Here are some things that you need to know about heroin addiction:

  • Know the symptoms. These can include a change in personality, lying, stealing of money or medication, sudden drop in grades, depression, pinpoint pupils and signs of intoxication.
  • The first thing is to seek professional help. Treatment for heroin addiction, in addition to detoxification, sometimes includes the use of methadone, which is not intoxicating or sedating, but suppresses narcotic withdrawal. Methadone also relieves the craving for heroin. LAAM is a synthetic opiate that is used to treat heroin addiction.
  • Detoxification is necessary for most addicts. This is usually done in a residential center but sometimes in an out-patient facility.
  • Behavioral therapy is often effective, involving contingency-management therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. As with other drugs, 12-step programs can help reinforce the decision to stop using heroin once the addict has navigated the difficult straits of withdrawal.
  • Psychotherapy along with certain psychiatric drugs is also common and useful to control urges and yearnings, as well as to help with the many common underlying psychiatric disorders of addicts, especially mood disorders.

Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.