What are Prescription Opioids?

Prescription opioids are medications prescribed by a doctor to treat pain from surgery or chronic pain. All opioids in some way derive from the opium poppy plant. Unlike natural opiates, however, opioid-based medications are either partially or fully synthetic. This allows drug makers to isolate certain properties or manipulate potency for a variety of uses. Prescription opioids may also be combined with other drugs to increase efficacy. Drugs such as Percocet and Vicodin for example, contain acetaminophen: another painkiller found in the over-the-counter medicine Tylenol.

Why are Prescription Opioids So Addictive?

In cases of severe or chronic pain, opioids are virtually unmatched. When taken, opioid medication activates at opioid receptors sites throughout the central nervous system, blocking pain signals and providing relief throughout the body.

But opioids also travel to the brain where they promote feelings of relaxation and euphoria. These sensations are governed by the release of dopamine. Taking opioids can eventually change areas of the brain associated with motivation and self, making long term opioid use habit forming and addictive for a large portion of the population.

To add more fuel to the fire, opioid users can build tolerance to the drug relatively quickly needing ever increasing amounts to get the same effects. Taking large amounts of opioids raises the risk of health problems, overdose and can lead to behaviors associated with drug abuse.

Addiction or opioid use disorder occurs when a person can no longer stop using. Their patterns of use significantly interfere with their daily life and can cause legal consequences as well.

Breaking Down the Opioid Epidemic

At the heart of the controversy surrounding prescription opioids, is a flood of reports country-wide chronicling misuse, addiction, and overdose deaths. In the late 1990’s the seeds this public health crisis was sewn as a new generation of opioid painkillers entered the market.

As these new prescriptions were filled in record numbers, doctors were assured of their safety by the pharmaceutical companies. But like the propaganda of the 20th century that touted the safety of morphine and heroin, by the time the public had caught on abuse was widespread.

In 2017, many US states enacted legislation to crack down on overprescribing. This included limiting the supply of opioids supplied to doctors while cracking down on those who were overprescribing.5 While serious progress has been made, new problems are emerging as a result. As restrictions have tightened so too has the abuse of drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

Statistics of Opioid Abuse

  • Overdose deaths due to opioids totaled 3.8 per every 100,000 individuals in the US
  • The rate of overdose deaths due to opioids increased by 6% between 2018 and 2019
  • Approximately two thirds of all drug overdoses involve an opioid
  • It is estimated that 10.1 million people misused opioids in 2019.

Side Effects of Opioid Use

  • Constipation
  • Decreased Appetite
  • Muscle soreness
  • Dizziness and
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Respiratory Depression (or difficulty breathing)

Signs of Opioid Abuse

When a person abuses opioids, normal behaviors change becoming more oriented towards drug using behaviors. Here are some signs that you or a loved one have been abusing opioids.

  • Withdrawal symptoms occur when the person stops using
  • Regularly missing work or school
  • Canceling plans without much notice or explanation
  • Taking medication that exceeds the regular dosage
  • They appear disoriented, confused, or high
  • Difficulty finding or maintaining a job
  • Running out of money and asking to borrow money from others
  • Valuables and medication go missing when they are around

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Often, people with opioid addiction lack the resources and structure necessary in their daily lives to achieve long-term sobriety. They may also face problems at home and stressors in their immediate environment that lead them back to their bad habits. Given all the complications that could arise in a user’s daily life, addiction treatment can provide a safe and inclusive environment to get clean.

Before rehabilitation can begin, it is first necessary to cleanse the body of offending substances. At inpatient rehab centers, individuals receive services such as access to medical staff, medication assisted treatment (MAT) and nutritional support.

Medical detox also has the advantage of providing relief from withdrawal symptoms. In addition, detox centers are secure, monitored spaces that can prevent relapse from occurring during this crucial period.

But even after detox has been completed, powerful urges, lingering withdrawal symptoms and lack of preparedness threaten to derail any progress made. This is where inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs step in.

In inpatient programs, individuals receive treatment while living in an addiction facility. These programs are usually equipped with medical staff, addiction specialists and counselors and can be attended for 1-to-3-month periods.

Outpatient programs are for those who have stepped down from an inpatient program or can receive addiction treatment while living at home. These programs offer counseling, 12 Step meetings, and medication assisted treatment (MAT). While outpatient programs are ongoing, some may find that a few hours a week may limit treatment engagement.

Get Help Today

Are you or a loved one struggling with opioid addiction? Prescription opioids can dissolve a person’s ability to make safe and healthy choices. To avoid the disastrous consequences of drug abuse it is often necessary to seek the help of addiction professionals. For more information on addiction treatments available in your area see the link below. 

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 17). Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/epidemic.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November 17). Drug Overdose Deaths in the U.S. Top 100,000 Annually. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/nchs_press_releases/2021/20211117.htm

de Falla, K. (n.d.). Opioid Pain Medications. Spine. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://www.spine-health.com/treatment/pain-medication/opioid-pain-medications

Digital Communications Division. (n.d.). Opioid Crisis Statistics. HHS.gov. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/opioid-crisis-statistics/index.html

Opioid Prescription Limits and Policies By State. Ballotpedia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://ballotpedia.org/Opioid_prescription_limits_and_policies_by_state