Drug Abuse and Treatment in Lafayette, Louisiana
In the heart of Cajun Country, lies Lafayette, Louisiana, steeped in a rich history and located along the Vermillion River. The population of 127,000+ residents is the 4th largest in the state. The city is one of the true beacons of Southern culture boasting some of the most impressive museums, orchestras, music events, art festivals, and theaters in the entire state. Lafayette is also home to The University of Louisiana at Lafayette where the Ragin’ Cajuns represent their school in sporting events.
Despite Louisiana’s commitment to cultural events, the state has had a bit of a drug problem. While statistically below the national average, runoff from Arkansas’ prolific meth manufacturing industry has had a serious impact on drug admissions throughout Louisiana.
While marijuana is still the most commonly abused drug in Lafayette, the abuse of both “club drugs” like ecstasy, ketamine, and GHB are on the rise. Meanwhile, the abuse of prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, and Dilaudid continue to pose a major threat to the area.
Many of those who are seeking treatment in Lafayette are between the ages of 14 and 24. Youth alcohol and drug abuse have become a major problem for the area. 8.5% of Louisiana’s youth found themselves with dependencies on illegal drugs for which they needed treatment.
For those in Lafayette that are seeking help from their addiction, the purpose of this article is to familiarize you with both how drug treatment works and to talk about the drugs themselves and their impact on the body. For loved ones of those in treatment now, this article can prove beneficial to you as well. It will help give you some sense of the process of drug rehabilitation, what users experience when they’re high, what detoxing is like, and, afterward, what makes abstinence so difficult.
It’s important to recognize that the process of kicking a drug habit is not an easy one. It takes time to fully recover. The individual in recovery faces a number of pitfalls along the way. We’ll discuss what some of those pitfalls are and how doctors treat the symptoms of drug withdrawal.
For those that want a fresh start, help is out there. It will take time and effort, but lives can be changed for the better. While drug abuse may seem attractive, drugs take a physical and psychological toll on the individuals that use them. They end up controlling and destroying lives.
Lafayette, Louisiana and Prescription Opioid Abuse
This isn’t just a problem for those in Lafayette. All across the country, people are dying from prescription opioid abuse, and this is because of how accessible the drugs are not only on the black market but also to patients getting prescriptions from their doctors.
While there is currently more awareness concerning the so-called “opioid” epidemic, there are still too many people dying from the abuse and misuse of otherwise legal substances. While it may seem easy to blame these individuals for their problems, in many cases, they should have never been prescribed the drugs in the first place. Not only are these drugs habit forming, but those who take them for pain management develop a tolerance over time. This results in needing more of the drug to produce the same effect. It’s only a matter of time before they develop an addiction.
Part of the problem involves how these drugs are being prescribed. When doctors have a pill to treat a symptom, they prescribe the pill. In the US, this has become a major problem. The US now accounts for 25% of the world’s opioid overdoses, and many of these individuals are not heroin addicts. They’re folks that have had a recent surgery or are recovering from an injury. Doctors are prescribing opioids for conditions as routine as toothaches. Insurance companies are always willing to cover them.
In Europe and Asia, both doctors and insurance companies are far more reluctant to write prescriptions for and cover opioids for acute pain. Opioids are generally reserved for those with chronic or irreversible pain. That’s because the drugs are both habit-forming and quite dangerous.
When an individual takes opioids for any reason, the drug acts as a respiratory depressant. In other words, it reduces the amount of pain, makes them feel more relaxed, and slows their breathing. When someone’s breathing has been slowed to the point of stopping altogether, an overdose has occurred.
While stronger opioids such as heroin increase the likelihood that an overdose will occur, there’s nothing stopping anyone from overdosing on an everyday prescription. As it turns out, the majority of these overdoses are accidental.
Even more troubling, kids are getting their hands on their parents’ prescriptions and abusing the drugs themselves. A black market for these drugs has found its way onto the streets making them easily accessible for those without a prescription. For that reason, opioid overdoses have reached epidemic proportions here in the states, and Lafayette Louisiana is no exception.
Lafayette, Louisiana and Methamphetamine Abuse
When you ask doctors, they’re going to tell you that the number one drug threat to any region is generally heroin and other opioids. When you ask law enforcement officers the same question, they’ll generally say it’s methamphetamine. That is due in large part to the erratic and violent behavior of those who are high on the drug, and the level of violence involved in the drug trade itself.
Since Louisiana is a coastal state in close proximity to Mexico, a number of drug gangs and cartels target the area for distribution all across the states. Methamphetamine is produced in both Arkansas and Mexico and then distributed by outlaw biker gangs throughout Louisiana.
Meth is a stimulant that gives the user a feeling of focus, vitality, and an abundance of energy. But the impact of long-term abuse of the drug destroys every major system in the user’s body. The drug is merciless in the sheer amount of deterioration it causes to a human body.
On top of damaging the heart muscle from overstimulation, it causes constriction of the blood vessels nourishing the major organs of the body, including the skin. This is why meth users appear to age rapidly from sustained abuse. Without proper blood flow, the organs are starved of necessary nutrients. Organs that are typically compromised by meth use include the kidneys, eyes, and the skin.
On top of that, meth causes severe psychiatric problems including psychosis. Users may be experience delusions. They may believe they are at the heart of a conspiracy or have been chosen for a special mission. They may believe that they can hear other people’s thoughts or that people can hear their thoughts. They may believe that the other people are around them are unreal, fake, or imposters. In other words, they lose touch with reality.
Whenever you hear a major news story about a person on drugs behaving aberrantly, a safe guess of what their drug of choice is would be meth. Since paranoid delusions are common, meth abusers may be afraid that other people are “out to get them”. They may become violent for no apparent reason.
Meanwhile, every time they abuse meth, their brain is being flooded with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is involved in producing feelings of pleasure and reward. Eventually, their brain becomes dependent on the drug to produce dopamine. Since this neurotransmitter is also released when we eat or have sex, users don’t necessarily feel the urge to do much of either. They end up losing weight rapidly.
Individuals that are high on meth appear frantic, spastic, and energetic. Their pupils will likely be dilated. They will be acting manic and be speaking quickly.
The dopamine factor plays a huge role in the rate of relapse for methamphetamine addicts, which is higher than even heroin. Since their brains can no longer produce dopamine on their own, they will feel a protracted sense of emptiness and depression after stopping their abuse. While psychiatrists can treat the depression with antidepressants, the brain will need to relearn how to produce dopamine on its own. This can take a year.
Lafayette, Louisiana and Marijuana Abuse
While marijuana is not considered a dangerous drug and many states are considering its legalization for recreational purposes, marijuana is nonetheless a drug. It has a major psychoactive impact and seriously skews an individual’s cognition. If it didn’t, then no one would bother using it.
Alongside alcohol, it likewise represents most individual’s entry point into drug abuse. While many enjoy both without consequence, marijuana can have a number of serious consequences for those who abuse the drug while their brains are still developing. In addition, those that have pre-existing psychiatric disorders like bipolar, schizophrenia, or schizoaffective, will find that marijuana worsens their symptoms.
Throughout Louisiana, marijuana remains the most abused drug and the number one reason individuals find themselves in rehab.
While the drug is not considered physically addictive, neither is crack or methamphetamine. These drugs all have some impact on the neurotransmitter dopamine. When an individual stops smoking marijuana, they may find that they experience depression, agitation, and have difficulty falling asleep. While the effects will not be near to what they are for crack or meth users, they nonetheless exist.
Lafayette, Louisiana and “The Club Drugs”
Club drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy), GHB, cocaine, and ketamine remain a growing issue throughout Lafayette and Louisiana. These drugs are primarily taken at raves, parties, or at clubs. Hence, the name. They produce a variety of effects.
MDMA affects at least three of the brain’s neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Users of the drug describe a happy, blissful experience. This is due to the flood of serotonin MDMA produces. Each time a user takes the drug, however, it damages the serotonin system making it more and more difficult for the brain to naturally produce the chemical on its own. Studies in rodents and primates indicate that this damage can be permanent. Those who abuse MDMA over long periods of time can suffer chronic depression, confusion, paranoia, and anxiety. It can also affect higher reasoning functions, problem-solving intelligence, and memory.
GHB and ketamine are both considered date rape drugs, but users often take them for their psychoactive effects. GHB has been linked to several deaths and is especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol. It was once marketed as a dietary supplement and in its prescription form can be used manage withdrawal symptoms for alcoholics and other addicts. It’s approved by the FDA to treat narcolepsy. When mixed with alcohol it causes stupor and loss of consciousness, which is why it’s used for sexual predation.
Ketamine has a similar effect when mixed with alcohol. The drug is used as an anesthetic in both humans and animals. It produces a mystical high that dissociates the user from their typical sense of perception. The high is extremely potent but does not last long. Users compare it to PCP and “Robo-tripping” – the use of Robitussin for recreational purposes. As a dissociative hallucinogen, the drug has a very low addiction profile, but since its effects are so short-lived users can end up taking more and more of it to prolong their high. Once users begin taking the drug regularly, an addiction forms. This can lead to memory impairment and mood disturbances, among other things.
Cocaine is still a popular drug at the clubs and favored among “weekend warriors” who work during the week and party on the weekend. The drug is often taken alongside ecstasy or alcohol where users run a serious risk of dehydration. Since alcohol is a depressant, and cocaine is a stimulant, the effect that one has on the other is to nullify some of the adverse effects. Alcohol can help cocaine users manage anxiety symptoms that occur once the drug wears off, and cocaine can counteract the depressant effects of alcohol, making users more energetic. This also increases the likelihood that they will take more of either substance. The end result is often alcohol poisoning or cocaine overdose.
Treatment for Drug Abuse in Lafayette, Louisiana
Drug abuse seems fun to folks at first, but over time, the effect becomes diminished with increased use. This is true of almost any drug. For those with opioid, heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine addictions, this is especially true. The brain adapts to the substance and begins producing less and less of the chemicals the drug stimulates. Instead of using the drug to produce a high, users end up using the drug to achieve a baseline.
For that reason, the process of quitting these drugs becomes very difficult. Even in cases where the drugs don’t have a “physical” addiction, like opioids, users will have to endure a protracted period of adjustment in which their brains are adapting themselves to sobriety. This is what makes any kind of drug abuse dangerous, even when it’s only drugs like alcohol or marijuana.
Those who find themselves in need of medical intervention for their habit, often have underlying psychiatric considerations to address. Anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder are not uncommon among those who abuse drugs.
The medical treatment of drug abuse comes in 4 discrete stages:
- Pre-Intake / Drug Assessment
- Post-Acute Care
Drug Assessment / Pre-Intake
This stage is designed to determine the extent of the individual’s drug abuse and to determine what (if any) physiological problems their drug abuse has caused. For instance, methamphetamine, crack, and cocaine abusers tend to have serious heart problems if their abuse has gone on for long enough. Those that are addicted to prescription painkillers or heroin tend to have respiratory problems. Heroin addicts may have contracted a venereal disease or have collapsed veins.
The doctor will want to know how long the drug abuse has gone on for, what the user’s drug(s) of choice were, and take a patient history and a family history. They will also want to know if there are any co-occurring psychiatric conditions that need to be treated.
The assessment is designed to allow the doctor to anticipate complications should they occur.
Detox generally involves getting all of the drugs out of the user’s system. In cases like crack, meth, and heroin, this can be a physically demanding process. Opioids are physically addictive and have a very painful set of withdrawal symptoms. Doctors can mitigate this to some extent by tapering users off the drugs using other opioids like methadone and suboxone. But the process will nonetheless be uncomfortable.
Likewise, those that are chronic users of any drug will have created serious changes to their brain chemistry. They are likely to experience anxiety, depression, and insomnia during the early stages of abstinence. It can take a full year before the brain has fully corrected itself.
Patients will have the option of detoxing as an inpatient or an outpatient. Inpatient programs, for obvious reasons, have proven themselves to be the most successful. A typical inpatient program lasts 28 days.
The majority of those that relapse do so during the post-acute stage of drug treatment. Depending on the drug, users often experience an intense sense of depression. Almost every recreational drug affects the dopamine channel in some way. When the brain can’t produce dopamine naturally on its own, the user suffers from anhedonia, which means the inability to experience pleasure. Long-term drug abusers going through this phase will seem withdrawn, disaffected, and no longer enjoy the things they once enjoyed.
For loved ones, this can be difficult to watch. It’s part of the process. Doctors can prescribe anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants. But the brain must learn to regulate itself on its own.
Some hospitals offer extended inpatient programs that help addicts through this phase. Outpatient treatment is more common. Users will be taught how to manage their cravings, think about their reasons for using drugs in the first place, and receive treatment for any underlying psychiatric conditions that may exist.
For those that have suffered from drug addiction or alcoholism, the temptation to use may never fully go away. Each day will be a struggle to make the healthy choice. And quitting drugs is no promise that life won’t be complicated or difficult. Those in the maintenance phase will need to use their coping mechanisms to ensure that they don’t fall off the wagon.
12 Step programs have proven remarkably helpful to many. There they can make connections, talk about their problems, and learn from others who have been there before. They can also help others in need. These programs add value and meaning to people’s lives.
Eventually, lives are rebuilt. It’s never too late for a person who needs help to seek it out. Drug addiction is a hard battle to win. Nonetheless, millions of people all across the country do win that battle. If you or someone you love needs help with that process. Help is out there. Take back control over your life and put yourself on the path to freedom.