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Addressing Opiate Withdrawal Stigma

Stigma Stands In The Way of Urgently Needed Treatment at an Opiate Detox Center

When your dependent patients are ready to stop using opiates, they will need you to address their opiate withdrawal fears and doubts. While there are many resources available to help patients understand opiate withdrawal symptoms, perhaps the more urgent task for medical professionals and social workers is the need to overcome stigma and barriers that patients encounter on their road to recovery.

According to the CDC, in 2013, nearly two million Americans abused prescription painkillers. A 2013 study called “Intertwined Epidemics: National Demographic Trends in Hospitalizations for Heroin- and Opioid-Related Overdoses 1993-2009”, published in PLOS ONE, highlighted trends in opioid abuse. Regarding the study, principal investigator Dr. Daniel Ciccarone, professor at the University of California San Francisco, commented that “…the stigma surrounding heroin use prevents many new users from seeking treatment—getting help.”

Women with Addictions

The findings of the “Intertwined Epidemics” study show that rates for women hospitalized due to overdoses have risen more sharply than the rates for men. In fact, women are now admitted to hospitals for opiate overdose in overall higher numbers than men. Just look at the overdose rates for female prescription opiate overdoses. They have increased from fewer than 3 per 100,000 individuals in 1993 to greater than 15 per 100,000 in 2009.

Such statistics demonstrate the new challenges faced by social workers. The current opiate epidemic affects more white, female, wealthy, and rural patients than researchers have seen in the past. This may be in large part due to the increased abuse of legal opioid pills vs. illegal injectables.

In an interview with Social Work Today, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse said the stigmas surrounding opioid abuse continue to shape treatment. Furthermore this prevents some patients from seeking help. Social stigma portrays addiction as the result of moral weakness or lack of willpower. Despite the increasing neurological evidence that addictions are the result of brain dysfunction, society has been slow to recognize this. They continue to accept the stigmatization of addiction. As a result, the demographic of affluent female patients will likely continue to find the stigma of opiate withdrawal treatment at an opiate detox center difficult to overcome.

Connecting Patients With Opiate Withdrawal Help

It comes as no surprise that patients attempt opiate withdrawal on their own. This enables our patient to feel that all-important sense of exercising control and willpower. It also allows them to avoid the social stigma of entering an opiate detox center. So, social workers should emphasize to their patients just how dangerous it can be to go through withdrawal alone. Seeking help from trained medical professionals is not an indicator of moral weakness or lack of willpower. It is simply an honest admission that the withdrawal process is safer with medical supervision.

Patients should be reassured that an opiate detox center can provide a personalized treatment plan. Also, it offers close monitoring and treatment of extreme side effects or dangerous complications. Social workers are in a position to explain to patients that clinical opiate withdrawal protocol follows evidence-based pharmaceutical and therapy-based treatments and offers a much higher rate of successful recovery.

If you are a social worker looking for a safe and confidential facility to refer to your patients, call 1-800-RECOVERY.

Opiate Withdrawal | Withdrawal Opiate

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