What You Need to Know About Opiate Addiction. Opiates are a class of substances that encompass drugs like heroin, opium and prescription painkillers. Although opium use is rare in the United States, heroin and painkillers such as oxycodone, oxycontin, and vicodin (also opioids) are quite common. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 21 percent of Americans over the age of 12 currently use illegal opiates. This includes narcotic painkillers for which the person has no prescription. The U.S. alone consumes 80% of the world’s opioid drugs produced.
Opiates are also one of the most addictive drugs in existence. Well over half of people who used opiates in the past year are classified as addicts. Researchers agree that opiate addiction can have many contributing factors such as psychological or emotional trauma, stress, poverty, peer pressure and physical or mental illness. The drugs are often used as a means of self-medication for these issues. Unfortunately, these powerful substances come with numerous hazards to health, safety and well-being. Here’s what you should know about opiate addiction.
In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of prescription painkiller users who have switched to using heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain. With this increase in heroin use, there has been an increase in crime rates and overdose rates as a result.
Knowing How to Tell
When someone is addicted to opiates, it’s not always readily apparent. Many people carry an addiction for years before the people around them find out. Some people may not even believe they have an addiction because they don’t recognize the signs. Here’s what you should look for:
- Avoidance of social activities
- Diminishing health or worsening of appearance
- Uncharacteristic behavior
- Unexplained absences from work or other obligations
- Apathy or lack of emotion
- Neglecting personal and household hygiene
- Financial irresponsibility
It’s also important to know whether a friend or loved one is actively using opiates. The signs typically manifest as:
- Glassy eyes with dramatically narrowed pupils
- Slurred speech
- Falling asleep at random (nodding)
- Difficulty staying awake<
- Lack of appetite
- Frequent constipation
- Inability to pay attention
Consequences of Opiate Abuse
Opiate addiction is far from harmless, and there is never just one victim. It can completely destroy a person’s life and also negatively impact the lives of the people around them.
Social and Relationship Effects
Over time, opiates deaden emotion and lead to apathy, causing the user to lose their capacity for empathy and sensitivity toward others. They may begin to grow distant from friends and family. Intimate relationships suffer and die due to emotional neglect when the drug inevitably becomes more important. People who abuse opiates may also become hostile toward the people around them due to the extreme irritability caused by the drugs. They may also have no qualms about stealing from and taking advantage of people in order to facilitate their addiction. The eventual outcome of this is loneliness and estrangement from loved ones.
Health and Safety
Any drug addiction carries health and safety risks, but opiates bear special consideration. One of the biggest concerns is with HIV. When opiates are used intravenously, as with heroin, the sharing of needles is a common occurrence. Because HIV is easily transmitted through blood, this makes needle sharing a dangerous practice. The effects of the opiates themselves are also a hazard. Aside from the high risk of overdose, many opiate users tend to fall asleep or “nod out” while under the influence. If this occurs while the person is driving, it may result in their death and that of passengers or other motorists. Abusing opiate painkillers is no safer. The vast majority of painkiller-related emergency room visits are due to overdosing on the NSAIDs they contain, which can result in gastrointestinal bleeding, liver failure and kidney failure.
Opiate painkillers are illegal unless the user has a prescription. Heroin and opium are always illegal and there is no such thing as a prescription for these. Painkillers fall into the DEA’s Schedule II and III classifications, which mean they have a high potential for abuse but are medically useful. Heroin and opium fall under Schedule I, meaning they have a high abuse potential and no accepted medical use. Illegal use of these drugs is a felony under federal law. Possession carries stiff penalties that may include steep fines, one or more years in prison and a criminal record. Trafficking and manufacture are far more serious and are typically punishable by several decades in prison. If you provide opiates to another person and that person dies as a result, many courts consider this manslaughter.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an opiate addiction, it’s strongly encouraged to get help right away. These substances can be a highly destructive force that can ruin relationships, bring legal trouble or worse, result in serious health problems or death. However, this is a long, hard road that cannot be traveled alone. Opiate withdrawal is often severe and requires professional treatment. For this reason, it is best to enroll in an inpatient rehabilitation center. The controlled environment and highly trained staff provide the ideal conditions for successful treatment and recovery.