Informed Families Catalyst

From The Front Lines: Hiding In Plain Sight

Posted by David Vittoria, MSW, CAP, CPP, ICADC, NCAC II, Assistant Vice President, South Miami Hospital Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center on April 16, 2015 at 1:54 PM

Did you know that, according to last year’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly a third of people who use drugs for the first time begin by using a prescription drug non-medically? Did you know that the data suggests that one in 15 people who take non-medical prescription pain relievers will try heroin within 10 years?

Being fortunate to work with other engaged community leaders on both the Addiction Services Board as well as the Miami-Dade Criminal Justice Council, we often discuss whether/how policymakers are coming to terms with the prescription drug and heroin epidemic, which does not discriminate based on age, race or wealth. I wonder sometimes…do they know that addiction has crept into the halls of our elementary, middle and high schools? Do they know that it’s hidden on the internet? Do they know that it’s in our living rooms?

Do you?

I have been doing this a little while now and I can tell you something unequivocally…America cannot simply arrest its way out of our current drug crisis. Solutions require a broad, multi-pronged approach of education and prevention tools, as well as expanded treatment options.

Parents, children, teachers, students, employers, lawmakers and the public must open lines of communication.

According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, teenagers are 50 percent less likely to abuse prescription drugs when they learn the risks from their parents. Proactive education about prescription drug misuse, heroin use, suicide and overdose is necessary. These are dangerous drugs with real consequences, and communities cannot be blinded by prejudice.

Additionally, addiction and overdosing can be prevented by cautious prescribing of painkillers. Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) provide good tools to curb doctor-shopping by individuals with an addiction and identify improper prescribing practices. In fact, after one year of using a PDMP, New York and Tennessee saw respective 75 and 36 percent drops in patients who saw multiple prescribers to obtain the same drugs. I hope we can realize some of these same kinds of gains here in Florida someday.

Addiction needs to be recognized as a disease that can be prevented and treated and from which individuals recover. Only one in 10 people with addictions receive treatment — we can do better. Individuals with substance use disorders need access to safe, effective pain treatment and need to know how to use the resources available to them through the Affordable Care Act. In addition, primary care providers need to be aware of the signs of abuse and work with behavioral health caregivers when help is required.

Only access to education, prevention, treatment and recovery support will be able to put an end to this epidemic’s devastating consequences.

Don’t know where to start? There are lots of opportunities right here in Florida. One way you can support education and prevention is by reaching out to students and families with healthy messages through the Informed Families Ambassador Program.

If you would like to support local treatment and prevention efforts or find out more about volunteer opportunities to support your community, contact the South Miami Hospital Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center at 800-YES-HOPE.

Join Our Ambassador Program


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Topics: addiction, painkillers, prescription drug abuse, David Vittoria, recovery, prevention

From The Front Lines: From Painkillers to Heroin

Posted by David Vittoria, MSW, CAP, CPP, ICADC, NCAC II, Assistant Vice President, South Miami Hospital Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center on December 16, 2014 at 4:22 PM

Recent Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations of painkiller abuse in the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) have highlighted the results these drugs can have on relieving pain and energizing players. The FDA and former NFL team members who’ve filed a class-action lawsuit say players were given drugs like Percocet, Toradol and Novocain to energize them before games and relieve pain afterward.

But there’s another epidemic related to painkiller abuse sweeping the country, and it’s also a dangerous one. Painkiller addiction often serves as a gateway to heroin use and has led to skyrocketing levels of addiction to and deaths from the illegal and highly-addictive drug, according to a recent government report.

The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 2010-2012 mortality data from 28 states found deaths from heroin overdoses doubled in those two years, from 1 to 2.1 deaths per 100,000 people, while deaths from prescription opioid drugs fell to 5.6 from 6 deaths per 100,000. The South region of the U.S. saw the second-highest increase in heroin overdoses – a whopping 181 percent leap.

As a result, addiction rehabilitation programs, are seeing an increase in patients seeking help for heroin addiction, including the South Miami Hospital Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center. We’re definitely seeing an increase. There are three things at the base of the current heroin epidemic.

Reasons for Increased Use

First, the closing of the “pill mills” in Florida meant there was no more easy access to narcotics. Strip malls and street corners laden with “pain clinics” attracted a constant flow of “patients” consuming narcotics. When these sources closed, these people sought the next readily available substance – heroin.

Second, the government challenged the pharmaceutical industry to change the content matrix of oxycodone to prevent it from being easily crushed and turned into a powder that can be snorted or injected to get high. As a result, people who were used to crushing, cooking or injecting starting using heroin.

Third, when a physician cuts off people who are legitimately taking prescription pain medicine for pain or recovering from an injury, they realize they’ve become dependent and go to heroin to fill the void. When access to the drug of choice is taken away, the addict becomes “dope sick,” a condition in which they feel so ill that they have to keep using to feel better. To many, the high that heroin provides is the cure. It‘s cheaper, readily available and its effects are relatively predictable.

Dangerous Effects

Many heroin users don’t think about how the illicit drug can damage the body. Pulmonary infections and endocarditis, a serious infection of heart valves, are the two most common infections that result from heroin use. The infections are caused by the white powdery substances mixed with heroin to bulk up volume in order for the sellers to charge more money for the drug. When things like talc, sugar and artificial sweeteners are injected or snorted into the body, they get into airways and heart valves, damaging or sometimes destroying, the body’s vital pulmonary or cardiac systems. Heroin itself, in its pure form, is like morphine, providing sedation and pain relief. It’s the contaminants in heroin that cause so many of the serious reactions and deaths.

Meanwhile, drug companies have created quick-acting, emergency treatments for overdose cases. To help save lives, several police and fire rescue crews and emergency rooms are now equipped with Narcan, a drug that serves as an immediate antidote to narcotic overdose. The medication also is available over-the-counter, and the White House recently issued a nationwide plea to people who regularly take narcotics, and even to heroin users, to keep it on hand.

So what can you do about preventing this epidemic in your own home? Lock Your Meds. Secure your medication, take regular inventory and safely dispose of expired and unused medications.

Learn More About Lock Your Meds


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Topics: addiction, painkillers, prescription drug abuse, David Vittoria, recovery, heroin

About Us

We teach people how to say no to drugs and how to make healthy choices. To reduce the demand for drugs, Informed Families has focused its efforts on educating and mobilizing the community, parents and young people in order to change attitudes. In this way we counteract the pressures in society that condone and promote drug and alcohol use and abuse. The organization educates thousands of families annually about how to stay drug and alcohol free through networking and a variety of programs and services .

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