Opioids are causing a serious crisis in the United States. Every year, over 2 million Americans abuse this class of drugs - which includes heroin, fentanyl and its analogs, and prescription pain relief medications like hydrocodone and morphine. This has caused a rapid increase in the prevalence of opioid use disorders - or opioid addiction.
This type of addiction, on the other hand, has been causing many deaths. In 2016, for instance, the country reported over 20,000 fatalities linked to a prescription opioid overdose. The same year, more than 13,000 people lost their lives after overdosing on heroin.
Also known as narcotics, opioids are a class of drugs produced from the poppy opium plant. They include illicit substances like heroin and prescription pain relief medications such as tramadol, fentanyl (and its analogs), hydrocodone, and oxycodone.
Typically, health care providers like doctors and pharmacists offer a prescription for these medications for the relief of pain - such as after an invasive surgical procedure or a major injury. The drugs are also effective at pain management when you are struggling with a health condition such as cancer.
These prescription opioid medications are usually safe if you take them exactly as your health care provider prescribed and in the short term. However, abusing them could lead to severe risks.
Opioid abuse occurs when you use these medications in any way other than a doctor advised - or without a valid prescription. It might also happen when you take heroin - an illicit drug.
Addiction, on the other hand, would mean that you have already developed tolerance and dependence on the drugs. As a result, you will have to take them in higher doses or more frequently than you used to so that you can experience the pleasurable effects that your brain has come to associate with using these substances.
Addiction to this class of drugs is known as an opioid use disorder. It is a chronic and long lasting condition that will cause financial, social, and health problems. The condition is also characterized by compulsive and powerful urges to take opioids even when you realize that they have been causing problems in your life.
At this stage, you will find yourself prioritizing the use of these drugs over just about everything else in your life. As a result, this may lead to negative consequences in your personal and professional relationships.
Addiction occurs because opioids will change the chemical and physical structure of your brain - leading to tolerance. Once tolerance occurs, you will have to take the drugs in higher doses or more frequently than you used to before you can achieve the pleasurable and euphoric effects that your brain has come to associate with the drugs.
Eventually, tolerance will be replaced by dependence. When this happens, you will develop the psychological and physical symptoms of a withdrawal syndrome every time you stop using the substances.
Your growing opioid use disorder, on the other hand, will increase your risk of suffering an overdose. This will occur when you take the drugs in higher than normal doses - and it can lead to unconsciousness, stopped and slowed breath, coma, or even death.
The opioid crisis in the United States started in the 1990s when pharmaceutic companies claimed that this class of drugs could not cause addiction. As a result, health care providers started prescribing them at high rates.
Eventually, many people developed dependence and addiction to opioids. Unfortunately, few people - even those in the medical community - understood that these substances were addictive.
The HHS only declared opioids as a public health epidemic. This was due to the rising numbers of cases involving opioid abuse and addiction - as well as the related drug overdoses.
Other figures from the CDC - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - report that between 21 and 30 percent of the people who receive a prescription for opioid medications end up misusing them. Similarly, 8 to 12 percent of these patients eventually find that they are living with an opioid addiction.
It has also been estimated that between 4 and 6 percent of those who abuse prescription opioid pain relief medications eventually turn to heroin - because it is cheaper and more widely available. Additionally, around 80 percent of those who abuse heroin started abusing prescription opioids.
Today, the opioid issue is increasingly becoming an epidemic and public health crisis. This is due to the fact that it has been causing devastating consequences among the people who are addicted to this class of drugs.
For instance, it has led to a rise in the incidence of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C among those who abuse these drugs intravenous. There has also been an increase in the total numbers of opioid related overdoses as well as the occurrence of NAS - neonatal abstinence syndrome.
If you develop an opioid use disorder or an opioid addiction, you may display some of the classical signs and symptoms of a growing substance use disorder - which may include but are not limited to:
If you are addicted to and dependent on opioids and you significantly reduce the dose that you were used to taking or completely stop using these drugs altogether, you may suffer from the following withdrawal symptoms:
Opioid withdrawal can be quite difficult, uncomfortable, or even dangerous in some instances. This is why it is recommended that you seek addiction treatment services - particularly medically supervised detoxification.
One of the risks associated with opioids is that they can cause an overdose. This will occur if you take a dose of these drugs that is too high for your body to handle or properly process out of the system. The condition will typically be accompanied by the following symptoms:
If you suspect that you might be overdosing or someone else might be, it is essential that you call 911 or your local poisons control center as soon as possible. This is because an opioid overdose can lead to death.
The problems linked to opioid abuse and addiction show that there is an urgent need for opioid addiction treatment and rehabilitation. Centers that offer these recovery services often provide highly individualized and customized programs, which might include the following services:
In case you have been abusing opioids, or you suspect that you may already have developed an opioid use disorder, it is recommended that you check into an addiction treatment and rehabilitation center as soon as possible so that you can get help in overcoming this problem.