Archive for the ‘Families of Addicts and Alcoholics’ Category

Kratom, Again


I blogged about this topic about a year ago, and thought I’d post a repeat, given recent events in another Southern state.

Parents of a 22-year old junior at the University of Georgia say their son killed himself after becoming inadvertently addicted to kratum

These parents are lobbying to make this drug illegal in Georgia, where its use is presently not against the law.

Kratom (also called ketum or kratum) is a tree in the genus Mitrogyna, which is related to the coffee tree, and found in Southeast Asia. Kratom leaves have been used for thousands of years by natives of the area to produce stimulant and opioid effects. Fresh leaves can be chewed, or broken up to make a drink, or steeped in hot water to make a tea. Dried leaves can be smoked by users, who say low doses of kratom cause a stimulant effect. Higher doses are said to cause sedation.

Kratom’s active ingredient is mitragynine, an opioid agonist. Mitragynine activates the mu opioid receptor in the human brain to cause an opioid-like effect. Like other opioids, this compound in the kratom tree relieves pain and causes euphoria. Some rat studies demonstrated more potent analgesia from mitragynine than morphine. It’s structurally different than other opioids, and unlikely to show as an opioid on drug testing.
Because of its opioid-like effects, kratom can be used recreationally for the high it produces.

If you google “buy kratom,” more than a million websites appear, offering to sell all sorts of varieties of kratom, and extolling its properties of, “Pain relief, Energy, Prolonged Sexual Intimacy, and Mood Support.” You can buy capsules, dried leaves, and plant extracts. Because of this recreational use, governmental agencies in the U.S. have been reluctant to fund studies on this drug.

Users and marketers of kratom say it’s an herbal pain medication that’s safe and effective.

Sadly, many people accept the idea that “herbal” and “natural” means “safe.” Not so at all. Some of the world’s most potent poisons are found in nature. Hemlock, belladonna, and cyanide leap to mind. And there’s no way to know what exactly you are buying on the internet. It may be kratom, ….or it may be nightshade.

Assuming a person does buy real kratom off the internet – is it harmful? Probably about as harmful as other opioids, though rat studies did show less respiratory depression than other opioids. That may be due to kratom’s activity at the kappa opioid receptor. This drug also has adrenergic and serotonergic activity, so it has a complicated method of action. The increased adrenergic effect of the drug may give users a feeling of energy, like the other stimulants cocaine and amphetamines. This property has led some people to say kratom could be a treatment for methamphetamine addiction.
Chronic and continued use of the kratom leaf can cause opioid dependence, with opioid-type physical withdrawal symptoms when stopped. However, at least one case report showed less physical withdrawal than expected when a heavy user suddenly stopped kratom after having a seizure. [1] There’s talk on internets sites of using kratom as a treatment for opioid addiction, but no scientific literature or human trials have been done.

Mitragynine from the kratom tree has intriguing possibilities for use in the medical world, but we won’t know unless scientific studies are done. Until then, it would be dangerous and irresponsible to recommend use of this product, especially if it’s bought off the internet with no way to know what you are buying.

I hope researchers will explore this drug to see if it has potential to help patients with opioid addiction. For now, there’s not enough evidence to be able to recommend kratom’s use for any purpose. And with recent publicized adverse events, there’s good reason to avoid kratom, given it’s potential to cause physical dependence and addiction.

Even if the compound mitragynine in kratom shows efficacy in clinical trials as a pain reliever or opioid addiction treatment, it shouldn’t be ingested in unprocessed plant form. We don’t have people in pain chew on an opium poppy seed pod, or heart patients chew on the foxglove plant to get their digitalis, and doctors won’t recommend use of kratom in the plant form. Let’s purify the drug in kratom, mitragynine, study it, and produce it as a medication in standardized doses with quality control, if it’s found to be effective.


North Carolina Pregnancy & Opioid Exposure Project


Imagine being in a room filled with more than four hundred people: social workers, nurses, substance abuse counselors, and doctors specializing in obstetrics, pediatrics, and addiction medicine. Every one of them are there to learn how to care for pregnant women using opioids or addicted to opioids.

This actually happened earlier this month at the POEP conference in Greensboro, NC. (POEP stands for Pregnancy & Opioid Exposure Project. You can learn more about this organization at their website: )

This organization, funded through a federal block grant through the NC Department of Mental Health, is run by the UNC School of Social Work. The organization has managed to bring together many of the people in our state who take care of pregnant women with opioid addiction. The goal of POEP is to disseminate information, resources, and technical assistance regarding all aspects of opioid exposure in pregnancy. The organization was formed in 2012 in response to concerns about the problem of pregnant women being exposed to opioids.

This organization is talking about all opioid use in pregnancy, not only about addiction in pregnancy. Some pregnancy women are prescribed opioids for the treatment of pain. These women may have physical dependence on opioids, though they may not have the mental obsession and compulsion to take opioids. However, the same problems can be seen in the newborn whatever the reason the woman takes opioids, so there is overlap in the problems faced.

This conference had renowned speakers; Marjorie Meyer, an expert in maternal-fetal medicine from Vermont, was the keynote speaker. This doctor participated in the MOTHER trials, and also set up an innovative treatment method in Vermont for mothers addicted to opioids. She has written about her data, and contributed greatly to our knowledge about buprenorphine in pregnancy (see my blog post of February 28, 2015).

Dr. Hendree Jones, lead author of the MOTHER study, did an excellent session on myths about medication-assisted treatment in pregnancy. She’s also a world-renowned leader in the field of addiction in women.

Dr. Stephen Kandall was there, and spoke about the challenges of advocating for women with addiction, with some historical perspective. He wrote an outstanding book, “Substance and Shadow: Women and Addiction in the United States,” which is one of my all-time favorites. It’s one of the best books about females and addiction. This conference was the first time I met Dr. Kandall, and I got all creepy-gush-y, and dithered about how much I loved his book. I can be such a nerd at times, but he was very polite and gracious.

There were many sessions going on at the same time, so it was impossible to go to all of the sessions that I wanted to attend. Other speakers talked about how best to coordinate care for pregnant women when they go to the hospital to deliver their babies, how to work with the court system if the pregnant woman has legal problems, and how to work with female patients on opioids about family planning.

I was honored to be one of the four-doctor panel that was organized to answer audience questions about medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine and methadone during pregnancy. We got some great questions, like how to deal with co-occurring benzodiazepine use during pregnancy. Our session was only forty-five minutes long, and we probably could have spent a few hours answering all their questions. I was also impressed by the thoughtful opinions and recommendations from the other three doctors, all leaders in our state.

This conference was a great experience. I felt like many of the attendees got a better view of what opioid-dependent pregnant women need, and where and how to direct them for the best care. I’m pleased people in our state cared enough to start the difficult work of informing families and care providers about the problem of opioid use and addiction during pregnancy.

POEP has a great website that I’ll recommend to the pregnant women I treat, and I’ll also recommend it to their obstetricians. That site has clear information not only for families, but also for care providers. Here are the fourteen important points for infant care providers, taken directly from the POEP website:

“Key Messages for Infant Care Providers Working with Families of an Opioid-Exposed Newborn
1. Parents should be counseled as early as possible (preferably well before delivery) about the need for close monitoring of an opioid-exposed infant.[2]
2. Parents should be encouraged to disclose any maternal opioid use that occurred during pregnancy and should be treated in a nonjudgmental manner.[3]
3. Hospital care of the newborn should be family-centered, meaning that the parents should be a driver in the care plan.
4. Parents should receive education about how opioid-exposed infants are monitored and how neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is treated at their delivery hospital.
5. There are various approaches to monitoring for neonatal abstinence syndrome in opioid-exposed infants, such as the use of the Finnegan Scoring tool.[2],[3]
6. Monitoring for the onset of NAS may mean the infant will be monitored in the hospital for up to 5 days.
7. Infants at risk of NAS may be monitored in the mother’s room, in the newborn nursery, special care nursery or neonatal intensive care, depending on hospital protocols and resources.
8. There are various approaches to the management of NAS including non-pharmacologic interventions and pharmacologic therapy, depending on the needs of the infant. Approaches include:
• Non-pharmacologic management of NAS: environmental controls emphasizing quiet zones, low lighting, and gentle handling. Loose swaddling, as well as holding and slow rocking of infant may be helpful. The use of a pacifier for excessive sucking is also helpful.[2],[6],[7]
• Pharmacologic management of NAS: the use of a variety of medication to ease the withdrawal symptoms of the infant. Common medications include opioids (dilute tincture of opium, morphine, or methadone) and phenobarbital.[2],[6],[7]
9. Breastfeeding is encouraged for women in medication assisted treatment, unless there are medical reasons to avoid it. Reasons to avoid breastfeeding include an HIV infection or specific medication for which breastfeeding is not safe.[2],[3]
10. Infants experiencing NAS may have difficulty establishing breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. Women may need additional encouragement and lactation consultation to support breastfeeding.[2],[3]
11. Whenever possible, having the newborn room-in with the mother while in the hospital is encouraged. Benefits include opportunity to initiate breastfeeding, bonding and decreased need for treatment of NAS.[1]
12. Some infants will experience NAS as a result of maternal opiate use through a treatment program (such as a methadone maintenance program) or by prescription (such as buprenorphine for an opioid use disorder or prescription narcotics for pain management). The opioid exposure alone in situations where the mother was adherent to a prescribed treatment plan would not constitute an appropriate reason for referral to Child Protective Services. See structured intake 1407
13. Not all infants at risk of NAS are identified in the hospital, particularly in situations where maternal use of opioids has not been disclosed. This may be due to women not disclosing legal or illegal use of opioids.[2]
14. Withdrawal symptoms from opioids may appear in the infant after discharge to home. It is important for providers working with the infant and the family in the community (pediatricians, CC4C, Early Intervention) to be aware of signs and symptoms of NAS. If the infant displays any of these signs or symptoms, the family should be encouraged to seek pediatric care promptly.[2]”

North Carolina has a great start in addressing the problem of opioid-exposed newborns. The organizers of POEP can stand as an example of how other states can begin to address this challenging situation. Neighboring states (you know I’m talking about Tennessee!) have walked in the opposite direction, preferring to view opioid use during pregnancy as a crime rather than the medical problem that it is. That’s sad, because an aggressive attitude of judgment is correlated with poorer outcomes for both mother and infant.

Congratulations to the organizers of the POEP conference. Hopefully it was the first of many more to come.

For Families: How to Sabotage a Loved One’s Recovery


It’s the holiday season, and many of us are blessed with loving and caring families, with whom we will share delightful hours of blissful conversation. However, for some addicts in recovery, families can be…challenging.

Many people in recovery have done things to their families during active addiction that they are not proud of, just as other family members have taken actions against the addicted person that are less than admirable. At holidays, old resentments can surface, leading to feeling of shame, guilt, anger and resentment on both sides.

For patients in medication-assisted treatment, holiday problems can be magnified. Not only do these recovering people need to deal with old hurts and past problems, but sometimes also have to hear other family members criticize a form of recovery that’s working well. Many family members feel like they have the right to criticize a recovering addict if he is on medication-assisted treatment with either methadone or buprenorphine.

Here are a few ways families can sabotage these recovering people:

1. Tell the recovering person that you don’t “believe” in methadone/buprenorphine. You can do this in a blunt and aggressive way, or you can be sneaky and make hints, saying things like, “people shouldn’t need drugs to get off drugs,” or something similar. You say this despite knowing next to nothing about methadone/buprenorphine. Your mind is uncluttered by any knowledge of the fifty-plus years of research showing how much medication-assisted treatment helps opioid addicts to recover.

2. Tell the recovering person that he is “weak” for needing any medication, and that the best way to defeat an addiction is “cold turkey.” Say this with a straight face as you drink a glass of whiskey and puff on your fifteenth cigarette of the day.

3. Tell him his opioid treatment center is just a legal drug dealer. Tell him there’s no difference between buying illegal opioids from a criminal on the street, and being prescribed a life-saving medication by a doctor at a treatment center that has been approved by the DEA, state and federal health and human services organizations. You have no idea that the treatment of opioid addiction is more regulated than any other medical service in the nation, but don’t let that stop you from saying something stupid. You will conveniently need to forget the recovering person gets counseling on a regular basis about how to make needed life changes at the opioid treatment program. Street dealers don’t usually offer this.

4. Tell your recovering family member that he’s not in “real” recovery. Tell him he’s still in active addiction because he’s prescribed methadone/buprenorphine. To look sincere when you say this, you will need to forget all of the positive changes you have seen in your loved one. He may have gotten a job, paid off old child support charges, gotten his driver’s license back and resolved all criminal charges, but don’t let all of those positive actions block your judgment of him.

5. Tell your recovering family member it’s “time to get off that stuff.” You can make fun of how long he’s used this crutch, even though you have no knowledge or training about the ideal length of methadone/buprenorphine treatment. After all, you haven’t let facts interfere with your judgment of his recovery process yet.

If you are also in recovery, you have additional ways of shaming your recovering relative. He’s using a different recovery path than you, so he must be wrong. You don’t care what his prescribing doctor recommended, because you know more than anyone else. You conveniently forget that line in AA’s Big Book that says, “We are not doctors…” and, “Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little.”

Not all people in recovery on medication-assisted treatment have harshly judgmental families. In some families, the addicted person’s recovery speaks for itself, and the whole family is encouraging and supportive. That’s the ideal, but in reality, patients on medication-assisted treatments often must have thick skins and learn how to handle negative influences. We usually think this means old drug-using buddies, but family can be just as destructive, only in different ways.

Now have a Great Christmas!

Naloxone Controversy


It’s a misleading title, because most people support naloxone use. At this point…there’s not much controversy. Unless you live in Maine.

Their governor, Paul LePage, vetoed a bill, passed by their State House in 2013, that allowed naloxone to become more widely available. He called the life-saving medication and “escape,” and “An excuse to stay addicted.”

Naloxone is an escape in a way – an escape from death.

However, before learning about naloxone, I had some concerns too. For example, would having naloxone available for an overdose encourage people to use more illicit opioids? Would addicts be more likely to push then envelop of safety in the quest for the ultimate opioid high?

The answer appears to be no, at least according to some small studies. One of them was a study of intravenous heroin addicts in San Francisco, who received an eight-hour training in how to prevent heroin overdose, how to give CPR, and how to administer naloxone. [1]

These twenty-four study subjects were followed prospectively for six months. These addicts witnessed a total of twenty opioid overdoses. All of the overdose victims were said to be cyanotic, unresponsive, and have no respirations. The addicts in the study, who had received the eight hour training, administered naloxone to 75% of the overdose victims they encountered. They performed CPR on 80% of the overdose victims, and 95% of the overdose victims had one or the other of the two interventions performed. All of these overdose victims survived.

The study did not show an increase in the incidence of opioid overdose. In fact, the addicts in the study used less heroin over the study period, even though no part of the study was dedicated to encouraging the reduction of illicit opioid use or to entering addiction treatment.

Granted, the study participants had to be motivated in order to spend eight hours doing the training, so maybe they were already motivated to cut down or stop using drugs. But on the other hand, about half of these study subjects were homeless, a demographic many in our society would assume is poorly equipped or motivated to help anyone else. Yet they demonstrated a remarkable willingness and capability to help peers dying from overdoses.

Emergency medical services were called in only two of the overdoses. When study subjects were asked why they did not call emergency medical services, half said it was due to fear of police involvement and arrest. Twenty-five percent said no phone was available, and 25% said they didn’t see a need for EMS.

This information underscores the importance of Good Samaritan laws. In the broadest sense, Good Samaritan laws protect a person who tries to help another person from civil or criminal penalties.

Initially these laws were passed to protect doctors from being sued if they attempt to save the life of someone who is not a patient. For example, if I witness a man choking to death in a restaurant and I rush over to do the Heimlich maneuver, I can’t be sued if I break his ribs in my effort to get him to hack up the meatball wedged in his trachea.

Good Samaritan laws, as they apply to drug overdoses, give some degree of immunity to people who try to intervene to save another person’s life from drug overdose.

For example, in my state, our Good Samaritan law says if a person seeks medical assistance for an individual suffering from a drug overdose, that person will not be prosecuted for possession of less than one gram of cocaine or one gram of heroin. The bill has provisions for doctors to be able to prescribe naloxone to any person at risk of having an opioid-related overdose. Doctors can prescribe naloxone to the friends or family members of a person at risk for an overdose, even if that person is not a patient of the doctor. This is called third-party prescribing; the law hacks through red tape of previous regulations that said doctors could only prescribe naloxone for their own patients. And our Good Samaritan law says a private citizen can administer naloxone to an overdose victim, and so long as they use reasonable care, will be immune to civil or criminal liability.

Not all states allow third-party prescribing of naloxone or even Good Samaritan laws. Look on the map at the top of this blog, and if you live in a state that hasn’t yet passed these laws, write your congressmen. This is such an important issue, and naloxone needs to be more widely prescribed. (I don’t know why Maine is colored on the map as if they have naloxone laws).

Who should get a naloxone prescription? Opioid addicts should obviously receive kits, and the friends and family members of these addicts. I believe it should be considered for any patient prescribed opioids, including patients on opioids for chronic pain, and patients prescribed methadone or buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction.

Kits should certainly be provided for high-risk patients – opioid addicts recently released from jail or detox units.

I wish I could prescribe kits for all of my patients on methadone or buprenorphine now, but aside from the program where I work in Wilkes County, it’s not yet easily available.

But it will be soon. In April 2014, the FDA approved a commercially available naloxone auto-injector marketed under the name Evzio. This kit, which delivers .4mg of naloxone intramuscularly or subcutaneously, has both written and voice instructions. Each kit contains two doses, and it can be administered through clothing. This kit should be available in pharmacies this summer.

Until then, there are other options. Doctors can call a local pharmacy to see if they would be interested in making a kit for sale to patients. At a minimum, it would include one or two vials of naloxone, a needle and syringe, rubber gloves and alcohol wipes to cleanse skin prior to injecting. This would be a relatively cheap kit to make, but questions persist about who would pay for it: the patient, their health insurance company…
The Harm Reduction Coalition has been instrumental in providing intramuscular naloxone kits to anyone who wants one. They have contacted OTPs in my state to ask if they can hand out kits and other information, so that’s another possible source for a kit. If you are reading this article and want a naloxone kit for either yourself or a loved one, please contact either the Harm Reduction Coalition at:
This wonderful organization does other good works besides distributing naloxone kits, and it’s worth checking out their website.

At the opioid treatment program where I work in Wilkes County, NC, Project Lazarus has paid all or part of the cost of intranasal naloxone kits for our patients who enter treatment. Thus far I know of three lives saved by these kits. None of them were our patients; our patients used their kits to save other people.

I’ve written about Project Lazarus before in my blog. This organization, founded by Reverend Fred Brason, has implemented ongoing measures that reduced the opioid overdose death rates not only in Wilkes County, but probably statewide as well. Other states have started programs modeled on Project Lazarus. You can go to this website for more information: I know that in the past, Project Lazarus has been willing to send a naloxone kit to anyone who has a need for it, so that’s another possible source for a kit.

I predict it will become easier to get relatively cheap naloxone kits from pharmacies everywhere as the momentum behind naloxone availability grows.

1. Seal et al, “Naloxone distribution and cardiopulmonary resuscitation training for injection drug users to prevent heroin overdose death: A pilot intervention study,” Journal of Urban Health, June 2005; 82(2): 303-311.



Medical journals, news outlets, and the internet have been exploding with new articles about naloxone. As awareness of this opioid overdose antidote grows, more people are pushing for this drug’s wider availability.

I’ve posted blogs about how the Project Lazarus kits have saved lives in my Appalachian corner of the world, but now let’s review some of the science behind naloxone.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which means the drug binds to the mu opioid receptors in the brain, but instead of stimulating these receptors to produce euphoria and pain relief, naloxone does the opposite. It occupies the receptor and prevents opioids from attaching to these receptors to cause euphoria and pain relief. Naloxone has a high affinity to the mu opioid receptors, meaning it sticks like glue to them, but it does not activate these receptors.

If you give naloxone to an average person with no prior opioid use, not much will happen. Because naloxone can block our body’s own opioids, endorphins, that person might feel a little achy, tired, and irritable. But for the most part, when naloxone is given to a non-user of opioids, nothing happens.

If the patient has used opioids just once, recently, the patient won’t have withdrawal when given a dose of naloxone, since the body isn’t used to having opioids anyway. Naloxone in this case restores the body to its usual state. This’s why naloxone can be useful in a patient given opioids for surgical anesthesia. After the surgery is over, doctors can use naloxone to reverse the opioid anesthesia if they want the patient to wake up more quickly.

But in a patient with opioid addiction (or in a chronic pain patient) who uses opioids daily, naloxone causes opioid withdrawal. With long-standing opioid use, the body makes adjustments to counteract the chronic presence of opioids. When these opioids are whisked away with naloxone, this balance is abruptly upset, and the patient goes into precipitate withdrawal, if enough naloxone is given.

Naloxone is the opioid buzz-kill drug… and it’s also the opioid overdose life saver.

People die from opioid overdoses because the brain gets saturated with opioids. The part of the brain that tells us to breathe during sleep, the medulla, also gets saturated, and eventually shuts off. This usually occurs gradually. The respiratory rate slows over one to three hours, until all respirations stop. Then tissues of essential organs like the brain and heart die from lack of oxygen.

If naloxone can be given during this process, the opioids are tossed off brain receptors, and the medulla fires urgent orders for the body to resume breathing. The patient wakes up, so long as irreversible damage hasn’t yet been done to the brain and heart. In some cases, the patient goes into full precipitated opioid withdrawal, but usually the naloxone doesn’t reverse all of the opioids on board, just enough to save the patient’s life.

It’s a dramatic event. I’ve seen this in the emergency department during my Internal Medicine training. A patient can be lying on a stretcher, dead… then one dose of naloxone…. and they are sitting up, asking what happened to them. And sometimes they vomit. That’s another thing I learned in training. After giving a dose of naloxone, take one step back. Even better, place the patient in the “recovery position,” illustrated at the top of this blog, so that if they do vomit, they won’t aspirate the stuff into their lungs.

Naloxone is a relatively cheap drug, and it can be administered in several ways: intravenously, as doctors and EMS workers have always done, intramuscularly, subcutaneously, and intranasally.

Project Lazarus uses this last method. Their overdose kits contain two vials of naloxone 2mg each, and are in a syringe with a nozzle that is attached to the end of the syringe. This causes the medication to spray when the plunger of the syringe is pushed. It’s sprayed up in the nose of an unconscious person, and gets absorbed quickly. In fact, the response rates of all methods of naloxone administration are about the same – two to three minutes. If the patient doesn’t respond after a few minutes, the second dose can be given. Or if the patient initially responds but then gets sedated again, the second dose can be given.

The Harm Reduction Coalition gives out kits with a vial of naloxone and a 3cc syringe and needle. It takes some skill to administer naloxone intravenously, but this kit can be used intramuscularly or subcutaneously. All the rescuer has to do is draw the medication from the vial into the syringe, then stick the needle into the thigh muscle and push the plunger. Usually that delivers the medication into the muscle, unless the person has a great deal of fat between the skin and muscle. But that doesn’t matter, since this medication also works when injected into the subcutaneous tissue.

Each version of a naloxone kit has its advantages. The intranasal kit doesn’t require a needle, so there’s no risk of an accidental needle stick by the rescuer. But it’s a little more expensive. The intramuscular kits are really cheap, but some people in the community worry about handing out a needle and syringe that could be used to inject drugs. I don’t worry about that, since needle exchange should be done in every community, but that’s a bit of a tangent. More practically, addicts don’t use 3cc syringes; they’re too large. Addicts would miss their shot, and too much of their drug of abuse would get left behind in that big syringe.

I don’t think it matters what kind of kit is made available to addicts, their families, and first responders. We just need to get some kind of naloxone kit to these people.

Of course, all these kits contain the recommendation to call 911 immediately. But those precious minutes before EMS arrives may mean the difference between life and death. If naloxone can be given, the patient may be saved. Their brain function may be saved.

To be continued…

Families Suffer, Too


I get many comments from readers in despair over the addiction of a loved one, so I’m re-running this blog entry from last year:

“Just found out my son who is on suboxone treatment, is also taking Xanax from a dealer. He came home this a.m. and dropped into a dead sleep. I checked his phone and found a message requesting Zanny from a certain Austin. I do not want to be his cause of death. Do I get tough and kick him out, or continue to try and help him? I am worried that his doctor will not continue to give him the suboxone if he tests positive for Xanax. I am worried if I kick him out, he will go back to heroin use. I feel damned if I do or don’t. I am a believer in prayer and God, but right now I am in a quandary. Any suggestions?”

It’s not just the addict who suffers from this disease of addiction; families also feel pain. Addicts are fooling themselves when they say they have a right to do what they want with their bodies because they are only harming themselves. The addiction causes the addict and all who love him to hurt.

This mom wants to know what she should do, and I’m tempted to give advice.
On the one hand, anything she does to make it easier for her son to use drugs is making his addiction worse. She should call his doctor and tell the doctor what’s going on, and let the doctor take it from there. If her son decides he wants to keep using Xanax rather than get into recovery, that’s his decision, not hers, and if he’s over eighteen, then his recovery is his responsibility.

And then on the other hand, it’s more difficult to overdose on Suboxone and Xanax than on a full opioid like oxycodone and Xanax. But overdose is still possible. If he stays on Suboxone, at least that’s reducing his risk of death. In the end, his doctor is going to do drug testing and it will become obvious what’s going on.

Not being a parent, I can only try to imagine how difficult her situation is. Most people are overwhelmed and unprepared for such grim circumstances. When she says she’s “damned if I do or don’t,” she’s right. She cannot control the outcome. She cannot cure him.

I know a mom who allows her son to live in the basement, fully knowing he is injecting heroin. She sometimes gives him money to he won’t have to commit crimes to finance his addiction. She says if she turned him out and he died on the street, she would feel awful, like she had abandoned him. On the other hand, I know a mom who did the same thing, and her son overdosed and died while living in her basement. She now feels like she didn’t do enough to help him, and that she contributed to his death by enabling him. At an Al-anon meeting, I heard a mom crying because her son died from a violent assault from a drug-using associate, shortly after she kicked her son out of her house for using pain pills. She felt like he might still be alive had she provided a safe place to stay.

This disease often kills young people, no matter if their families enable or provide tough love. Families can set boundaries, do interventions, and give consequences for continued drug use. They can reduce harm to the addict who is still using, by giving clean needles and a safe place to life. And the result may be the same either way.

I do know this mom needs to get help for herself. She can go to Al-anon, a 12-step recovery program for friends and families of alcoholics and addicts. It’s free, available in nearly every city, and it works. There, she can meet other moms and spouses and adult children of alcoholics who can share what they did to restore sanity to their own lives, independent of what their addict or alcoholic is doing. Or, she can go to a therapist to help her decide what course of action – or inaction – is right for her.

I had an addicted family member. I decided to be direct with him. I told him how I loved him and how I was worried his disease would kill him. I told him that I would pay for a treatment center, if he would go. I would go with him to 12-step meetings if he wished. I would support him in any way he thought necessary. The first time we talked, he made a joke of it, said I was worried for nothing, and he didn’t have a problem. Even though it wasn’t the response I hoped for, I felt better, because I said something I desperately needed to say. I was able to speak my truth to him in a way that felt good. I didn’t blame or shame him. I just told him I loved him and I was worried, and if he wanted help, I’d move mountains to make it happen.

I didn’t cut him out of my life, but decided what my boundaries should be in order to maintain my sanity. I couldn’t be around him if he was obnoxiously drunk. When I visited him, I always drove my own car in case I needed to leave if I started feeling overwhelmed. And I would not, under any circumstances, buy alcohol for him. I told him I didn’t allow drinking in my house, and if he came for a visit, he couldn’t bring alcohol with him to drink. I believe he did his best to honor my requests, but he couldn’t control his drinking, and I did have to shorten a few of my visits.
I didn’t nag him, but after he was admitted to the hospital with liver failure, I again offered to help in any way I could. This time, he said AA might be a good thing if a person needed it, and if he ever got that bad he’d go to AA. His drinking continued, and he died of liver failure four months later.

I would feel wretched if I had never spoken what was on my heart. It sounds like such a simple and obvious conversation to have, but in alcoholic families, conversations about alcohol consumption are often taboo. Logical and necessary conversations often feel bizarre in addicted families. In my family, we were silently aware that our family didn’t talk about such matters.

It took an unexpected amount of courage for me to be able to talk to my loved one about his drinking.

Besides Al-anon, individual counseling can help a great deal. A therapist, knowledgeable and experienced with dealing with families of addicts is worth her weight in gold. With either option, this mom will learn the threes C’s of Alana: you can’t control his using; you can’t cure him; and you didn’t cause his addiction. For some reason so many parents seem to think their son or daughter’s addiction is their fault, which of course is untrue.

With help, this mom will be able to think more clearly. She’ll be able to decide where to draw the boundaries. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong with boundaries. Each family member gets to decide where their limitations will be with the addicted love one.

For more about Al-anon, you can go to:
Families Anonymous, a similar group, has this website:

Nar-Anon is a 12-step group for the families of addicts:

Helpful Websites for Patients on Medication-Assisted Treatment of Opioid Addiction

I’ve compiled some of my favorite web sites which deal with the medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction. There are so many pitiful, ignorant sites on the web, it’s great to go to one of these for some sanity.

This is just what the address suggests: a support site for people being treated with methadone for either addiction or pain. This site has message boards and discussion forums as well as good information for patients and their families. There’s information on pregnancy and methadone, with links to recent studies. There are several advocacy links. One describes current legislative challenges to treatment with methadone.

The forums have some interesting topics. For example, there was a thread with methadone clinic patients writing in to say what they would do if they saw a drug deal at their clinic. Would they notify clinic administrators or ignore it? The answers were interesting.

You can get information about Methadone Anonymous, and locations of current meetings. You can also enter a methadone anonymous chat room each evening between 8 to 9 EST, but you do need to register on the site to participate in meetings and to post on other sections.

This site it a little busy and some of it hasn’t been updated recently, but overall it’s a great site for support and information.

This is the website I give people when they’re trying to find a doctor who prescribes Suboxone. This is the most up-to-date list of Suboxone doctors, but it’s not 100% correct. Sadly, there are some doctors who don’t update their information at this site when they are no longer able to take patients. But besides the names, addresses and phone numbers of Suboxone doctors,, there’s some reliable information on this site about buprenorphine. This may be a site you pull up for a friend or family member who has misgivings about medication-assisted treatments of opioid addiction.

This is the best all-purpose site for information about methadone, information about opioid treatment centers, locations of treatment centers, and answers to FAQs about methadone. It also provides a link to a great blog: mine. I’m proud they carry my blog entries on their site. OK so maybe I’m a little biased, but check it out. It’s an extremely well-maintained site, and kept up to date with interesting and new information.

This is a blog written by Dr. Junig, a physician who is obviously well versed in opioid addiction and its treatment with Suboxone. And it’s much more. He gives a link to his Ebook “User’s Guide to Suboxone.” I haven’t read it, but he says it contains information about situations that commonly arise during treatment with Suboxone, like acute pain management, surgery while on Suboxone, pregnancy on buprenorphine, and other problems. His blog has been around for many years, and I believe Dr. Junig is one of the first doctors to publically advocate for medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, and I admire this.

If you’re interested in the disease of addiction and recovery from it, you’ve got to go to this website. It’s the government’s publication site, where many pamphlets, booklets, and bulletins are free. Even postage is paid, so go browse at the site. It’s arranged so you can search by topic, by audience (patient, family, health professional, etc.), or by drug. There are even DVDs which are available for a small charge.

This is the website for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. There’s great information here, though it’s not specific to medication-assisted treatments with buprenorphine and methadone. This site is packed with information about drug addiction, its treatment, and its costs to society. You can download CASA’s famous white papers about the following topics: “Adolescent Substance Use: America’s #1 Public Health Problem” or “National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XV” or “Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population.” These are excellent sources of information, much of it downloadable for free. My personal favorite is “You’ve Got Drugs,” about the ease of obtaining controlled substances over the internet.

CASA funds research of treatments for addiction, and also makes recommendations to policymakers in the country. They also provide information and help exchange of ideas between the government agencies, criminal justice system, service providers and education systems.

This invaluable website is National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) summary of all the research studies about methadone, upon which our present treatment recommendations are based. If you need to know any facts about methadone treatment, you can probably get them here, along with references to support the information. If you are in medication-assisted treatment with methadone, you need to go to this site. You can download the whole of the Methadone Research Web Guide, and can take it to anyone who is pressuring you to “get off that stuff” to show them the science behind treatment with methadone.

If you travel out of the U.S., go to this website to see what other countries allow regarding buprenorphine or methadone. For example, the website tells travelers to Russia: “Methadone or buprenorphine must not be brought into Russia.” Using medication-assisted treatment with these two opioids isn’t legal in that country, and clearly it’s risky to travel with your prescription medication. The site does go on to say that if you must, travel with a letter from your doctor, translated into Russian.

I’ve referred to this site several times, looking to see what’s required for a patient who traveling out of the U.S. It’s an interesting site to peruse, to see how different countries are. There are tips about necessary phrasing for the doctor’s letter that’s usually required.

Readers, do you have suggestions for other great sites about medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction?


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