Opiate Painkillers And Polydrug Users

Opiate Painkillers and Poly-Drug Abuse Among Young People

When taken as directed, prescription opiates help millions of Americans deal with the pain of injuries, major surgeries and other severe conditions.

Opioids are great for short-term relief, and when taken in small amounts for no more than two to three weeks, they can even be safe and not overly addictive. However, as drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin become more and more prevalent in the medical industry, illicit usage of opioids is also on the rise.

poly drug useAs part of this trend, hospitals and drug addiction treatment centers are seeing a rapid expansion of a phenomenon known as “poly-drug” use, especially among young recreational drug users. This practice poses a high risk of overdose and other health complications, and it also tends to go along with other dangerous behaviors.

What Is Poly-Drug Use?

Poly-drug use is the combination of two or more drugs with the intention of achieving a particular effect. In many cases, users take secondary drugs to balance out the effects of a primary drug. For example, many abusers of the drug ecstasy will smoke marijuana or drink alcohol to counter the bad feelings of ecstasy’s comedown stage. Other common combinations are marijuana and alcohol, cocaine and alcohol, and LSD and ecstasy.

Some poly-drug combinations involve perfectly legal over-the-counter medications or other products. For example, Red Bull and other energy drinks are popular as elements in poly-drug formulas, as are cold medications like Nyquil and caffeine stimulants like NoDoz.

The Speedball Effect

Prescription opiates are a growing element in poly-drug use. The mixture of cocaine and heroin, also known as a “speedball,” was once popular in the 70s and 80s but declined throughout the 90s. In more recent years, the combination is making a comeback with prescription opiates in place of heroin.

It’s particularly popular in places where young people have access to these drugs, which is increasingly in suburban communities and on college campuses.

Drug abusers who have taken this combination describe it as having a unique effect. Because cocaine is a stimulant and opioids are depressants, taking the two drugs together leads to a sense of euphoria without the negative effects of either drug. Of course, beneath these euphoric effects there are real physical dangers to taking speedballs. The combination kills hundreds of young Americans each year.

However, cocaine is not the only drug that is commonly mixed with opioid medications. Methamphetamine is said to have similar effects when combined with opioids, and kids may also mix opioids with alcohol, marijuana or other types of prescription drugs.

Associated Dangers

Whenever two or more drugs are taken in combination, the risk of medical complications increases exponentially. When it comes to the cocaine-opiate combination, there is always a danger that the cocaine’s effects will cause the user to take a larger-than-usual dose of the opiate drug.

Cocaine’s effects wear off much more quickly, so if an overdose of the opiate drug was taken, the user may suffer respiratory depression, which can be fatal. In fact, this is the most common cause of death related to poly-drug use.

Combining opioids with alcohol can also be very dangerous, especially when large amounts of alcohol are consumed. While the two substances’ mental effects can be quite different, their physical effects are similar in some important ways. Both are depressants, which means that both cause lowered heart rate and respiratory depression. In short, this makes it much easier to overdose. Also, both can cause vomiting, which increases the risk of choking should the user pass out or fall asleep.

Aside from the risk of overdose and fatality, poly-drug use involving opioid drugs puts young people at risk in other ways. Opiates, cocaine, methamphetamine and alcohol are all more than enough to cause acute intoxication on their own. When taken in combination, they can cause intoxication at such a level that the user completely loses control of his or her behavior and may become wildly uninhibited.

This opens the user up to sexual abuse and other crimes, and it greatly increases the chances that the user will do something that he or she will regret later on.

Prescription Opiate Availability

While there is a small black market for prescription painkillers, most people who abuse opioids get the drug either from doctors or from other people who got them from doctors. That’s why this type of opioid-based poly-drug use is typically seen in areas where prescription painkillers are common.

Suburban teens often get the drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets, and college students usually bring them from home.

As a result, it’s generally difficult for young people to obtain long-term supplies of opioid drugs, and poly-drug use often takes the form of, for example, a weekend binge or a back-to-campus celebration. On college campuses, many of these incidents take place very soon after a winter or summer break.

Treatment for Poly-Drug Use

Because it’s difficult for most young people to get long-term supplies of opioids, poly-drug use rarely becomes a habit. In fact, it’s generally much easier for a college student to develop alcoholism than an opiate habit.

If a young person in your life has had an incident with opioid-related poly-drug use, it’s much more likely that he or she has a binge drinking problem. Both the drinking and the poly-drug use are signs of recklessness that go beyond normal youthful rebellion. These are signs that the individual is truly troubled and probably needs counseling for addiction or mental illness.

If you find that the young person in your life is taking opioids regularly, whether alone or in combination with other drugs, it’s important to seek opiate addiction treatment as soon as possible. Opiate addiction develops and worsens rapidly, which means that time is of the essence. It’s essential for this person to go through detox as soon as possible, and they will probably need opioid maintenance therapy with methadone or Suboxone. After that, long-term therapy and participation in a drug addiction support group are recommended. Talk to a doctor about the best options.

By Anne Watkins


January 18, 2015

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