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Guest column/When things are serious enough, we learn more

Everyone is aware of the substance misuse problem that has been labeled a public health epidemic. Everyone does not pause to think about more than the superficial: There is a drug problem. We don’t think beyond that until someone puts a new term in front of us, like polysubstance dependence.

What does that mean, you ask with wrinkled brow?

Polysubstance dependence is the mixing of multiple substances, with no particular preference. Alcohol is most commonly reported as a second abused substance, according to published reports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention further defines it as the use of more than one drug, taken together close to the same time either intentionally or unintentionally, the latter being the use of a drug that has been cut with another substance, like fentanyl, and the person using it does not know this.

Dr. Tracy Neuendorf, medical director at Family Recovery Center, advises, “This national study confirms what we are seeing at FRC, dramatically increasing use of poly pharmacy in opioid use disorder patients, especially methamphetamine and cocaine.”

Neuendorf is referring to a study just published at JAMA Network’s national urine drug test database, “Polysubstance Use Among Patients Treated with Buprenorphine.” The study emphasized the negative outcome of treatment when drugs are mixed. “Patients with opioid use disorder who use other substances have lower retention in treatment and are more likely to relapse to substance use than those who only use opioids.”

The authors of the study urge, “In an era of rising polysubstance use, it is important to identify illicit drug and alcohol use patterns among patients treated for OUD.

“The use of THC has been widely documented in a suboxone treatment center like ours for years,” Neuendorf said. “However, the epidemic of poly drug use is alarming, and as the study suggests, we need to increase our treatment options for methamphetamine and cocaine to help, especially since suboxone obviously does not help with non-opioid addiction.”

“Mixing drugs is never safe,” the CDC advises, “because the effects from combining drugs are often stronger, more unpredictable, and even deadly.” Possible effects of such use can “directly or indirectly increase the risk of brain injury, liver damage, heart attack and stroke.”

More than 250 Americans die each day because of illicit substance use, according to the CDC fact sheet.

In 2019, about half of drug overdose deaths involved multiple drugs. Alcohol, a depressant, increases the risk of serious damage. Also noted, using a stimulant and a depressant together does not cancel out the risk of harm.

If you think someone is overdosing:

• Call 911.

• Administer Naloxone (for opioid overdose), if available.

• Try to keep the person awake and breathing.

• Lay the person on his or her side to prevent choking.

• Stay with the person until emergency assistance arrives.

NARCAN (naloxone) kits are available at Family Recovery Center by calling (740) 283-4946

Family Recovery Center provides support for military personnel, veterans and their families, offering a wide range of comprehensive care options to address the needs for mental health and addiction-related problems.

The goal is to give back to those who have sacrificed so much of their lives by helping them to cope and readjust to civilian life. If you or a loved one is struggling, contact us at (740) 283-4946.

For information about the agency’s treatment and education programs, contact the center at 1010 N. Sixth St., Steubenville; by phone at (740) 283-4946; by e-mail at info@familyrecovery.org; or by visiting the website at familyrecovery.org.

Family Recovery Center is funded in part by Jefferson County Prevention and Recovery Board.

(Brownfield is a publicist at the Family Recovery Center.)

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