Huntsville's Drug Trends
Like much of America, Huntsville is experiencing a severe opioid epidemic. In 2016, emergency rooms saw an average of 1.2 patients a day that were being treated for overdose symptoms. In the first half of 2017, from January to June, hospitals treat about 13 patients per week for heroin or opioid overdoes which is a severe increase from the prior year. Narcan, the drug carried by police and stocked in hospitals that is used to reverse an overdose, had been used over 440 times in Huntsville in the first half of 2017 alone. As the opioid epidemic continues, these numbers are expected to continue to grow. Prescription painkillers are also a frequently abused substance and has seen a steady incline since 2013, which is also consistent with the rest of the nation. This has to do with the fact that painkillers are frequently inappropriately prescribed by doctors and patients use them not as instructed.
Local Drug Laws
Drug related crime in Huntsville is not taken lightly and law enforcement is committed to keeping drugs off the streets and out of the hands of citizens. Like most states in the nation, marijuana is illegal in Alabama. Being charged with possession of marijuana for the first time is considered a Class A misdemeanor and can be punished by up to $6,000 in fines and up to one year spent in jail. Possession of any imitation controlled substance is considered a Class C misdemeanor and is punishable by up to three months of jail time and up to $500.
Most drug possession chargers are considered felonies and violators are much more severely punished. A crime is considered a Class C felony if it involves the possession of any controlled substance established by the government. This also includes repeat marijuana for personal use charges and possession of marijuana with the intent to sell. Class B felonies include all crimes involving the possession, purchase or transfer of the substance anhydrous ammonia, which is an active ingredient in some controlled substances like crystal methamphetamine. Class B felonies can be punished by up to $30,000 in fines and anywhere from 2 to 20 years in prison.
Alabama has a very low tolerance for repeat offenders, and punishments are increased significantly after on felony conviction. After one felony, a Class C felony becomes a Class B felony and a Class B felony becomes a Class A felony. After two prior felonies, a Class C felony becomes a Class A felony and a Class B felony becomes punishable by 15 years to life. After three prior felonies, Class C and Class B felonies become punishable by 15 years to life and 20 years to life respectively.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is a disease of the mind that takes over a person’s entire life. When a person is suffering from an addiction, they are unable to control their constant thoughts and urges to use and feel bound to the drug. They become reliant on the drug and feel that they need it to survive. Even if they want to stop using the substance, they are not able to change without assistance. This does not come from a lack of willpower but rather a neurological disorder that is stronger than logical thinking can be.
An addiction might start out as a habit, but a habit is not an addiction. When a person has a habit, they are not dependent on the action of behavior that the follow on a regular basis. They may grow accustomed to following the habit, but they have the capability to stop if they ever needed or desired to.
What Causes Addiction?
A common misconception about addiction is that it is the addicts fault and is simply a lack of willpower. In actuality, addiction is a neurological disease in which a person has an uncontrollable reliance on a substance or behavior. There are many factors that play into why a person starts abusing a substance in the first place, like socioeconomic status, the type of peer group a person surrounds themselves with and whether or not a close family member has a substance abuse issue. Whatever the reason is for starting to abuse any substance, they still have the same impact on the human brain.
The limbic system is a portion of the brain that is responsible for a person’s ability to recognized motivation and associate it with an action as well as the body’s ability to experience pleasure. When a person uses an addictive substance, they experience an almost immediate euphoric feeling that affects the mind and the body. As that feeling fades away, the person hits a low and may experience flu-like symptoms or other negative side effects. Therefore, they feel motivated to use the substance again. Their mind has associated the use of that substance with a euphoric feeling and seeks it out to continue feeling the sense of pleasure that it brings. As they begin to use the substance on a regular basis, they start to develop a tolerance to the drug and need to consume higher quantities of it to reach the same type of high they initially experienced. This repeated process is what leads to the formation of an addiction.
How Do You Know If Someone Is on Drugs?
It can be confusing when you suspect that a person you know is using drugs and you might not know how to go about approaching it. Since drug use and addiction can be such a sensitive topic, it is important to express feelings of care and concern for the loved one rather than anger and resentment. Recognizing drug use can also be a difficult task if you are uneducated on the symptoms. There wide range of substances that are commonly abused all come with their own warning signs, which makes this task even harder.
One of the biggest warning signs that a person is using drugs is a rapid and drastic change in personality for no other apparent reason. If someone you know goes from being social and outgoing to withdrawn and quiet, this might indicate that they are using. Another sign is a change in the social group the person spends time with. They may abandon their previous friends to spend more time with people that share their same drug habit. Other suspicious signs of drug abuse include loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, depression, cold and flu-like symptoms, needle marks from injections and depression among others.
When a person is struggling with an addiction they may feel like they are in control of their situation and do not recognize that it is a problem. This is when the friends or family may need to step in and express their concerns to their loved one. This is called an intervention because the support group is actively intervening in the addict’s relationship with their addictive substance. Sometimes a less formal approach where one or more members of the support group express their concerns in a loving way is enough to convince an addict that they have a problem and encourage them to seek treatment. Other times, an intervention may require more structure and even a mental health professional to facilitate the meeting between the support group or the addict.
It is important for the support group to figure out what they are going to say to the addict regardless of what type of intervention they choose to follow. It may be helpful to write the addict a letter that expresses worry for the addict and leaves our anger and resentment towards the situation. They may choose to read this letter to the person or give them the letter to read on their own. Writing a letter of even making notes on what the support group wants to say to the addict is extremely important because it ensures that everything they want to talk about gets mentioned during that time.
Once the patient decodes that they are ready to patriciate in a treatment program, they begin with the intake process. This starts by the patient meeting with an intake specialist who will ask questions about their substance abuse, medical history and any previous treatment they have received. It is important that the patient is completely honest while sharing this information because it will be used to help the staff choose an appropriate treatment plan for the individual patient. They will also receive a medical assessment prior to treatment. This is important because prolonged substance abuse can have serious physical side effects that might need while at the facility. Patients also receive a mental health assessment to look for any co-occurring mental illness that may exist. Many addicts also have mental illnesses that either led to the substance abuse or resulted in substance abuse.
After their medical assessment, the patient meets with their treatment team to review their plan for their program. Patients will also have the opportunity to discuss any concerns or ask any questions they may have about their future program. They work together to develop individual personal goals for the patient to work towards while they complete their treatment.
If a person is accustomed to receiving an illegal substance on a regular basis like an addict is, their body expects it. To help transition the body off the drug, the patient goes through medical detox prior to starting their inpatient or outpatient treatment. Medical detox can last anywhere from 3 to 10 days depending on the individual’s prior health status and the details of their substance abuse. Most facilities have their detox unit, which is a hospital-like setting with trained staff, in a separate building or floor to ensure patient privacy.
Patients going through detox may experience both negative physical and mental side effects, some of which can be dangerous to their health. Physical symptoms may be mild like nausea, vomiting, tremors or heart palpitations; or may be more dangerous like strokes, seizures or heart attacks. Mental side effects may include anxiety, depression, irritability or insomnia and if the patient already experienced these symptoms prior to the detox process, these symptoms may become augmented.
Inpatient treatment centers are residential, and the patients are available to constant care during their time in their program. Patients live in private rooms or with up to 6 roommates who are also struggling with substance abuse. Patients in residential treatment programs work with counselors and other trained professionals daily and attend group meetings to help develop the resources to live a sober life. They may also be prescribed medication for co-occurring mental disorders and are observed by a psychiatrist who they meet with regularly. They also work on developing life skills that are crucial to helping them lead a sober life and maintain responsibilities like maintaining a job and supporting a family.
Another inpatient treatment option is called a partial hospitalization program (PHP). PHP programs use similar tactics as residential treatment centers, but patients do not live at the facility. Instead, they commute to their treatment programs daily the same way they would a full-time job. PHPs usually last 6 to 8 weeks and are typically shorter than residential treatment programs. These programs can be most effective for patients who need more assistance than outpatient treatments can offer but might not necessarily require a residential program.
Outpatient treatment is almost always the next step after residential treatment. Sometimes patients may have a mild addiction and do not require inpatient treatment and skip right to outpatient. Outpatient programs may be short or long term depending on the needs of the patient and how well they are adjusting to sobriety. Typically recovering addicts meet with their individual counselor once a week to discuss things like any urges they have had and how well they are implementing the skills they have learned in their everyday life. Outpatient treatment may also be group therapy, like Alcoholics Anonymous, which meet weekly and allow recovering addicts the opportunity to support each other. People may choose to remain part of a support group throughout their entire lives, or just for a short period following their prior treatment.