In light of the skyrocketing rate of heroin abuse, there has been growing recognition that more people need access to effective heroin abuse treatment. One avenue that holds promise is increasing awareness among primary care doctors about the signs and symptoms of heroin abuse. Primary care physicians are perfectly situated to make referrals to effective treatment programs such as rapid opiate detox or medical detox.
Use of Health Care Resources Among People Addicted to Heroin
There is a common misconception that heroin users are on the fringes of society. However, people of all races and socioeconomic statuses can suffer from heroin addiction. Understanding health care utilization among heroin users may help us identify potential ways to encourage addicted individuals to get the help they need.
In a 2015 study, researchers at Australia’s University of New South Wales followed a group of heroin users for 11 years. They sought to characterize the ways in which people addicted to heroin use health care resources. The study found that approximately three-quarters of heroin users had used a medical service in the past month. These visits weren’t related to seeking heroin abuse treatment, and 66% of the visits were with a primary care physician.
In addition to having a high rate of health care utilization, the group of heroin users were also highly likely to have been prescribed a prescription medication. More than half of the participants received a prescription for opioid painkillers. This is alarming, given the common brain pathways involved in heroin addiction and prescription drug abuse. Indeed, the group of people who had received a psychotropic medication such as prescription painkillers or anxiety drugs were more likely to have poorer mental and physical health.
Implications for Heroin Abuse Treatment
These findings suggest that heroin addiction in the U.S. may be accompanied by higher health care utilization. Additionally, people addicted to heroin may also be prescribed opioid painkillers by their physicians. As a result, compounding their risk of long-term opiate dependence.
The study highlights the need for ongoing education for primary care physicians. Continuing education should include information about signs of opiate addiction, safe prescribing of opiate painkillers, and the unique health care needs of people addicted to heroin. Additionally, it provides insight into the opportunity for primary care physicians to refer patients for effective heroin abuse treatment.
Currently, some physicians avoid talking about illicit drug use with their patients. They worry that it may upset them or cause embarrassment. However, these conversations are essential to helping addicted patients get the help they need. Given the frequency with which many heroin users visit their general practitioner, this can be an opportunity for them to receive the resources needed to overcome heroin dependence. Increasing physician referrals to programs that provide medical opiate detox can help patients through the challenging withdrawal process.
The recent study also highlights the necessity of understanding the unique medical needs of patients experiencing heroin dependence. At the Waismann Method Center, we believe in conducting a thorough medical assessment before preparing a treatment plan. This is essential to providing safe, high-quality care to those struggling with heroin dependence. People with long term heroin use histories may have problems with their cardiovascular or respiratory functioning that could impact treatment. Using a “one size fits all” approach to heroin abuse treatment could result in safety problems or poor outcomes. This is why we always provide individualized care in a full service hospital to ensure that the detox process is safe and effective.
Health Service Utilization Among Heroin Users: 11-Year Follow-up of the Australian Treatment Outcome Study Cohort. Addictive Disorders & Their Treatment. Retrieved on August 28, 2015.
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