Opioid Addiction | Opioid Misuse, Addiction & Treatment

In the United States, opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose are serious public health issues. For instance, according to an article in Pharmaceutical Journal, in 2009, the United States consumed 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone, 60 percent of the world’s hydromorphone, and 81 percent of the world’s oxycodone. Each of those medications listed are all considered opioids, making these percentages extremely alarming. That is a lot of the world’s opioids being used and abused by people in the United States.

The article mentioned that the increase in death rates from those products is a direct result of the degree to which they have been prescribed. There are many factors that contribute to the high rates of prescribing opioids. These include doctors not fully understanding the appropriate use and dosing of these medicines, demand for products by patients who have an opioid dependency, and an increase in for-profit clinics whose doctors may prescribe the use of opioid products beyond what they should. Even if the doctors are unaware, each of those factors contributes to the potential for opioid addictions to occur.

Opioid addiction is a chronic disease that happens when a person cannot abstain from using opioids and their behavior is centered around the use of opioids. Symptoms of opioid addiction are an inability to control one’s opioid use, drowsiness, altered sleep patterns, weight loss, poor hygiene, isolation from friends and family, stealing, and uncontrollable cravings.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a term for a type of drug that binds to opioid receptors in the body. They are sometimes referred to as narcotics. They are highly addictive and are a type of strong prescription pain reliever. They were derived from the opium plant but can be man-made.  Often, they are prescribed by a family doctor to help a person manage their severe or chronic pain.

Opioids vs Opiates

There is one major difference between opioids and opiates. Opiates are naturally occurring, and are derived from the flowers of the poppy plant. On the other hand, opioids are “opiate-like” drugs based on their effect but not their chemical structure. They include all opiates and refer to any substance that is either naturally or synthetically made. “Opioid” is a broad terminology used to describe any drug or substance that binds to the opioid receptors in the brain resulting in pleasurable feelings.

Types of Opioids

Opioids are an inclusive group of pain-relieving drugs that work by interacting with opioid receptors in the brain making a person feel good. Types of opioids are buprenorphine, methadone, meperidine, fentanyl, tramadol, codeine, morphine, semi-synthetic opiate, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Heroin is also an opioid but highly illegal.

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Opioid Effects and Abuse

The effects of opioid drug use are physiological (the body’s functions) and psychological (the brain’s functions). The physiological effects are pain relief, cough suppression, itching, shallow breathing, constipation, and dependence. The psychological effects include drowsiness, mental confusion, memory loss, lethargy, euphoric feelings, mood swings, depression, withdrawal, and dependence.

Opioids change the chemical balance of the brain and lead to drug tolerance. This means that over time they need a larger and more frequent dose to achieve the same effects. Prolonged use of opioids leads to dependence. Opioid dependence occurs when a person is addicted to opioids and experiences symptoms of withdrawal such as cravings, cramping, anxiety, diarrhea, sweating, and they are unable to stop using the drug despite the harmful consequences and negative impacts on their life. Opioid dependence can interfere with a person’s family life, daily routines, friendships, work relationships, or financial situations.

Opioid Abuse Statistics

Opioid addiction can cause life-threatening health problems, including the risk of overdose. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that in 2018 over 128 Americans die by opioid overdose every day. Also, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services listed a plethora of statistics. First, in 2018, 10.3 million people in the United States misused prescription opioids and 2 million people reported having an opioid use disorder in 2018. Over the course of 2018, 47,600 people died from overdosing on opioids.

When narrowing the lens down to a specific type of opioid, in 2018, 808,000 people used heroin and 81,000 people reported that it was their first time using the illegal substance.

Lastly, in 2019 over the course of a 12-month period, 32,656 people died from overdosing on synthetic opioids other than methadone. These statistics highlight the overarching opioid crisis that is happening right here in the United States.

Opioid Overdose

Opioid overdose accounted for over 42,000 deaths in 2016 in the United States which was more than any other year on record. About 40 percent of those opioid overdose deaths involved prescription opioids. This means that a person most likely was prescribed the substance for their pain management and then they later became addicted to it. They abused the drug that was meant to help them not hurt them.

Opioids can cause slow breathing which can lead to overdose deaths. Signs of a person having an opioid overdose are skin that looks pale or clammy to the touch, limp body, fingernails or lips appearing purple or blue, vomiting, gurgling sounds, unable to be awakened or unable to speak, and their breathing or heartbeat slows or stops.

In the event of an opioid overdose, the medication known as naltrexone is being used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose and prevent death, when administered in time. It is a nasal spray or injection that can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and save lives.

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

If you or someone you care about is suffering from an opioid addiction and dependence finding a high-quality rehab can help. Currently, the best treatment for opioid addiction is a combination of medications, counseling, and support from family and friends. The medication methadone prevents withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings in people who are addicted to opioids. When combining methadone with behavioral treatment such as individual or group therapy treatment for opioid addiction is more effective.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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