Opioid abuse remains a serious public health issue throughout the United States. This is, however, an often misunderstood type of addiction, since many people who use opioid pain medication have a valid reason for doing so and abusers often begin due to an appropriately diagnosed medical condition.

About Opioids

Opioids are a type of narcotic pain medication. They’re designed to interact with the opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brainstem, spinal cord, and limbic system to relieve pain.

Commonly prescribed types of opioids and their associated brand names include:

  • Fentanyl: Actiq, Duragesic, and Fentora
  • Hydrocodone: Hysingla ER and Zohydro ER
  • Hydrocodone and Acetaminophen: Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, and Vicodin
  • Hydromorphone: Dilaudid and Exalgo
  • Meperidine: Demerol
  • Morphine: Astramorph, Avinza, Kadian, MS Contin, and Oramorph SR
  • Oxycodone: OxyContin, Oxecta, and Roxicodone
  • Oxycodone and Acetaminophen: Percocet, Endocet, and Roxicet
  • Oxycodone and Naloxone: Targiniq ER

Heroin is also a type of opioid. Many people who begin abusing prescription pain medications eventually turn to heroin to get the high associated with opioid pain relievers at a lower cost. In fact, studies have indicated that as many as four out of five new heroin users started using after developing an addiction to prescription opioids.

Opioid Dangers

When used in a supervised medical setting, opioids are generally considered safe. However, the medication has a potential for tolerance, dependence, and abuse. The negative health effects of long term opioid abuse include a depressed immune system, lowered libido, respiratory difficulties, osteoporosis, abnormal heartbeat, hallucinations, delirium, and increased fatigue. Overdoses can lead to fatal oxygen deprivation.

Responsible Opioid Use vs. Signs of Addiction

Recognizing the signs of opioid abuse presents unique challenges because the medication serves an important purpose. Short term use after an injury or surgery helps patients recover with minimal discomfort.  People who suffer from chronic pain can also use opioids in cooperation with other techniques, such as physical therapy to help keep their pain levels in check so they can go about their daily routine. Some of the many conditions treated with opioids include:

  • Cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Migraines
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Scoliosis
  • Fibromyalgia

Appropriate opioid use includes the following:

  • Taking medication in the prescribed dose at the correct time
  • Avoiding alcohol or other drugs that could interfere with the effectiveness of the medication
  • Being cautious about driving or operating heavy machinery until you understand how the medication affects your body
  • Keeping medication in a secure location where it’s not accessible by others
  • Refraining from sharing or selling pills
  • Keeping all recommended follow-up appointments with your doctor

Unfortunately, due to the addictive nature of these opioid pain medications, it’s easy to slide from appropriate use into a more serious problem. Signs of potential abuse include:

  • Making excuses to get refills ahead of schedule, such as falsely claiming you lost your medication or had it stolen
  • Seeing multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions for several different types of opioid medications
  • Mixing medications with alcohol or other drugs
  • Buying or stealing pills
  • Requiring an increased dosage over time to get the same effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you’re unable to use
  • Lying to friends and family about your use of opioid medication
  • Avoiding hobbies and other activities you previously enjoyed in favor of using
  • Continuing to use despite experiencing negative consequences in your personal or professional relationships

People of all ages, races, and economic classes can develop an opioid addiction. However, women appear to have the highest risk. Research shows that prescription pain reliever overdose deaths among women increased more than 400% from 1999 to 2010, compared to a 237% increase among men during the same time period. In addition to being more likely to seek out prescription pain relievers from a doctor, women are more likely to become physically dependent on the medication due to their smaller size and hormonal makeup.

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Naloxone, sold under the brand names Narcan and Evzio, has received extensive media attention for its role in treating opioid overdoses. Paramedics, firefighters, police officers, and public safety workers are being trained to administer the drug in hopes of combating the opioid epidemic. However, the best way to fight opioid addiction is to seek treatment as soon as a pattern of abuse is identified.

Treatment programs for opioid addiction provide medically assisted detox and cognitive behavioral therapy to help substance abusers learn different ways to cope with the underlying issues at the root of their addiction. To learn more about treatment options for yourself or someone you love, contact the experienced staff at St. Joseph Institute today.

By: Dana Hinders


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