The National Fight against Opiate Addiction and What It Means for NJ

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Article Overview:

Opiate addiction has reached epidemic levels across the country, and New Jersey has been hit hard. Drugs like prescription painkillers, heroin, and now fentanyl have all been increasingly behind the skyrocketing rates of opiate overdose. The Governor’s Council on Drug on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse (GCADA) calls the deaths caused by heroin use the “number one health care crisis confronting New Jersey.

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An Interview with Dr. Philip Horowitz, CEO of Sunrise House

Dr. Philip Horowitz, CEO of Sunrise House

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GCADA reports that:

  • More deaths in New Jersey are caused by drug overdose than by car accidents, traditionally the leading cause of accidental death in the US.
  • Population groups once identified as “low risk” are increasingly struggling with opiate abuse, addiction, and overdose.
  • Drug rehab admissions based on the need for opiate addiction treatment increased 200 percent between 2007 and 2012 and almost 700 percent over the 10 years prior to 2012.
  • Of the 8,300 people admitted for treatment for opiate addiction in 2012, about 40 percent were aged 25 or younger.
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From 2010 to 2013, the rate of heroin overdose deaths in NJ was three times that of the national average

Across the country, heroin overdose deaths specifically have soared in the past few years. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the number of US deaths caused by heroin increased sixfold between 2001 and 2014, but in New Jersey, the rates are exceedingly higher: Every year, from 2010 to 2013, the rate of heroin overdose deaths in NJ was three times that of the national average.

What Is Driving Heroin Overdose Rates in NJ?

Dr. Philip Horowitz is the CEO of Sunrise House Treatment Center in Lafayette, New Jersey. With almost four decades invested in helping families in New Jersey overcome substance abuse and addiction, Dr. Horowitz is uniquely positioned to note the changing trends in drug use, abuse, overdose, and treatment in New Jersey. He cites tainted heroin supplies and increased purity as driving forces behind these incredible statistics and emphasizes that the problem is not isolated to any one particular area in the state.

Heroin Packages

Says Dr. Horowitz:

In one county, located at the New Jersey Shore, [they] experienced 107 deaths due to heroin and opiate overdose between January and April 2015, compared to nine who had died in the county from homicides.

In rural Sussex County, a county still with farms and agriculture, from January through August of 2016, there were 21 accidental overdose deaths. Without Narcan administered, there would have been an additional 80 deaths. In the urban centers of Pennsylvania, the purity rates are around 60 percent; in Newark, NJ, they are over 60 percent.

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It is this high rate of purity that is particularly troubling, according to Dr. Horowitz. The rapid and intense high created by use of heroin at such high purity levels can be almost immediately addicting to users, and cravings can begin with the first few uses. He points out that, prior to the year 2000, heroin purity rates were closer to between 2 percent and 4 percent.

As heroin became purer and less expensive, and pain medication was prescribed without consideration of consequence, the numbers of people and the demographics changed radically. At this point in New Jersey, the numbers of heroin/opiate addicted are still on the rise across all socioeconomic levels, as well as ages. The stereotype of the poor urban unemployed has been eclipsed so that rural and suburban counties are managing increasing numbers of addicted individuals.

Fentanyl-Laced and Carfentanil-Laced Heroin

In 2010, painkillers appeared to be the driving force of the opiate addiction epidemic. Over the next few years, we saw a shift toward heroin use and abuse, and then in the last year, fentanyl-laced heroin has become an increasing issue. Now, heroin laced with carfentanil is the latest overpowering combination to hit the streets. It does not seem to be the case that people are seeking out fentanyl-laced or carfentanil-laced heroin. Rather, it seems that drug dealers who are seeking to increase the potency of their product in order to keep customers are adding these potent substances to the heroin they are selling consumers. Unknowingly, many are taking their “usual” dose of heroin and ultimately experience an overwhelming, if not fatal, overdose, and there is no way to tell in advance of taking the drug exactly what it contains.

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As with all drugs that increase the powerful effect of heroin, carfentanil and fentanyl pervade the marketplace. There have been nine deaths this year attributed to fentanyl in Sussex County alone. These drugs are indistinguishable from heroin. They may be ingested, snorted, or injected, and they are hundreds of times more potent than heroin. [They] are so potent that mere physical contact can create absorption.

Earlier this year, a local policeman touched carfentanil and reported that he felt like he was ‘dying.’ He said, ‘It felt like my body was shutting down.’

Given the intense consequences of even minimum exposure to these substances, it is clear that no use is safe use. In order to truly protect against overdose, total cessation of use of all opiates is required.

Creating Positive Change in the Community

With such a devastating problem at hand, efforts to stem the tide of addiction and lower the rates of lives lost to opiate overdose must come in a number of different forms if the ultimate goal is to be reached. There is no one silver bullet that will effectively wipe out the problem, but there are a number of programs and organizations working together in New Jersey to help families who are in crisis due to addiction.

One of the main foci of government agencies, the medical community at large, and other community organizations is to increase awareness of the dangers of prescription painkillers. Many experts point to the overprescription of opioid painkillers as the starting point for the current addiction epidemic.

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Painkillers have been irresponsibly prescribed in abundant amounts from orthopedic specialists, pain specialists, etc. Often, these opiate-like substances are gateway drugs to the inevitable injection of heroin. Whether purchased on the street or through prescription or purchased on the Internet from the many pharmacies that will provide a script after answering 10 questions ‘reviewed by an MD,’ painkillers inevitably lead to heroin due to cost.

Helping patients to understand the risks of using the drugs can encourage some to avoid using them completely and encourage others to work with medical professionals to keep use at a minimum. Taking advantage of nonaddictive medications, holistic treatment options, and regularly assessing treatment progress to ensure that dosage levels are as low as possible can help to keep necessary use of these drugs as brief and safe as possible. Additionally, many agencies have worked together to increase use of and access to Narcan, a drug that can overturn an opiate overdose if administered in time, not only among emergency medical professionals but among families and friends of people struggling with opiate addiction.

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Sunrise House has worked with local police officials, local outpatient providers and, when we are able, private healthcare givers, families and our own patients, to educate them about the role of painkillers in addiction and the inevitability of heroin use. We have an extensive and intensive Family Education Day weekly where these issues are discussed, including telltale signs of prescription medication abuse.

Treatment Therapy

Accessing Diversified Treatment

Over the past few decades, as we have developed an increased understanding of addiction and the function of different substances in the brain and body, as well as what treatment services and protocols are most effective, treatment programs have evolved.

Treatment programs shifted their focus from the motivated functional alcoholic to programs that address more impulsive, generally younger addicts. In the ‘70s, many of the treatment programs admitted male middle-aged alcoholics. The more typical patients at this point are 19-35 years old, male and female addicts, many who were abused, have moderate attention disorders, and comorbid psychiatric disorders. The shift involved more resources, including the availability of psychiatric professionals, stronger medical teams, the use of anti-urge medications and consideration of maintenance medications.

Traditionally, the 12 Steps and Traditions that form the basis of 12-Step programming – community meetings run by and for people in recovery – have heavily informed public and private drug rehab programs in the last 50 years. To better serve the changing community of people struggling with addiction and their families, many rehab programs have widened their repertoire, seeking to offer a wider range of treatment services for increased personalization of care.

Group Therapy

Though 12-Step programming still plays a role in the treatment center, many of the therapies involve experiential modalities, such as adventure-based counseling, equestrian therapy, music therapy to augment treatment and Motivational Interviewing technics to enhance motivation and assist the patient in ‘wanting to be drug-free.’

Hope on the Horizon

As CEO of Sunrise House, Dr. Horowitz has gone to great lengths to meet the needs of the community as the opiate addiction epidemic in New Jersey rages on. In the last year since Sunrise House became part of the American Addiction Centers family, he has:

  • Increased the number of beds designated for medication-assisted treatment for opiate addiction by 30 percent
  • Increased medical staff to include three physicians who are internists specializing in addictionology
  • Increased psychiatric staff to include two psychiatrists, two advanced practice nurses who specialize in psychiatry, and two supervisor/specialist therapists who specialize in treating victims of trauma
  • Implemented increased trainings for all clinical staff to ensure that all have the skills needed to effectively treat an increasingly complex patient set

We hope to continue these and other projects and work with our team of community-based therapeutic consultants and Interventionists to provide help and become a family name in the treatment of addiction.

Get Involved, Get Help

At Sunrise House, clients and their families have the opportunity to not only effect positive change on a personal level but also within the community. As more and more families come to understand the depth and breadth of the problem of addiction in New Jersey and seek help in repairing their lives and homes, they will be better equipped to continue that positive forward motion and influence lifesaving change throughout the community. All of this can begin with treatment at Sunrise House.

Sunrise House, as it grows and represents the American Addiction Centers mission to treat and care for addicts all over the United States, becomes a powerful influence not only on local communities but also on the broader public.

Public knowledge is a potent weapon. Our treatment program has a nationwide, highly crafted system backing us up so there is more accessibility to a bed and for longer term treatment.

Our direction is to create in New Jersey, a respected state-of-the-art system that rivals the best hospitals in the area, and to treat, educate, and refer patients and families with very complicated problems that include addiction. We are one of the few treatment programs in the state that provide a wide range of addiction, psychiatric, and medical treatment to patients needing our help.

If you, or your family member, are struggling with opiate addiction in New Jersey, you are not alone. You can find a uniquely designed treatment plan tailored to meet your needs when you contact us at Sunrise House.

With 30 years of experience in Sussex County, New Jersey, the 22-acre mountain facility offers both men and women the treatment they need to effectively address both substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health disorders. Offering a full continuum of care – from detox to partial hospitalization programs to residential treatment and intensive outpatient treatment as well as outpatient services – clients not only receive intensive treatment but also take part in a vibrant sober community. Once treatment ends, clients and their families continued to have access to 12-Step meetings, aftercare support and alumni groups, monthly sober celebrations, and more.

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The goal for clients in recovery at Sunrise House is a complete and total perspective shift as well as a new way of life focused on mental and physical wellness and balance. Learn more about our addiction treatment program today.