Opioid Addiction rising rapidly. Opioids are drugs used to treat pain and have proven to be very beneficial to many patients, especially after surgery or severe injury. However, opioid abuse is a growing problem throughout the United States. In 2010, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.americannursetoday.com/prescription-opoids-a-growing-epidemic-of-abuse/) reported that more than 12 million people used prescription pain killers for non-medical reasons. Opioids were involved in almost 15,000 overdoses in 2008 with unintentional overdoses deaths quadrupling since 1999.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and include drugs such as:
- Hydrocone – Vicodin
- Oxycodone – Oxycontin, Percocet
- Morphine – Kadian, Avinza
- Diphenoxylate – Lomotil
Each drug has different uses in medicine. Hydrocodone is often prescribed after an injury and occasionally after dental procedures. Morphine is used before and after surgery, while codeine is often included with other analgesics to manage mild pain. Codeine is also prescribed to treat coughs while diphenoxylate can be used to treat gastrointestinal problems.
Effect on the Brain
One of the ways that opioids work could be the reason some people become addicted to the medication. The drug attaches to specific proteins called opioid receptors, reducing the perception of pain. They can also produce drowsiness, mental confusion, nausea, and constipation. Depending on the amount of drug taken, they can also depress respiration. Because the drugs work on receptors in the brain that deal with reward, some users report a euphoric sensation. People who abuse the drug may take it in a manner that is not prescribed, such as snorting or injecting the medication. Because many opioids, such as Oxycontin, are designed to treat pain through a slow, steady release of the opioid, snorting or injecting puts the abuser at risk for overdose.
Physical dependence on opioids occurs when the body normally adapts to chronic exposure to the drug so that when an abuser stops using withdrawal symptoms can occur. Although these may be mild depending on the drug being abused, they can sometimes be severe should the medication be stopped abruptly. Withdrawal from opioids can cause:
- Muscle and bone pain
- Cold flashes with goose bumps
- Involuntary leg movements</l>
Research is being conducted on whether long-term opioid abuse may cause brain damage due to the depression of respiration which could reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. In addition, some studies have shown deterioration of the white matter in the brain, which could affect decision-making abilities.
Symptoms of Abuse
Because many abusers begin taking opioids to manage pain, it may be difficult to recognize that they are becoming addicted. However, there are some signs that may indicate that someone is addicted, or may be growing addicted, to the medication. They include:
- Use beyond what is prescribed by a doctor
- Need for higher and higher doses
- Compulsive behavior to get the drug
- Continued use after negative consequences, such as job loss
- No feeling of pain
- Shallow or slow breathing
- Itching or flushed skin
- Confusion or poor judgment
Those who are becoming addicted to opioids may shop for doctors or seek early refills of the drug. They may also try to obtain the drug from more than one source. As the addiction grows, they may forge prescriptions or claim their prescription was lost or stolen. They may also refuse referral to pain specialists rather than refills on medication.
Dangers of Withdrawal
Although withdrawal from opioids is not medically dangerous, they can be agonizing and intolerable. This makes it difficult for those who are addicted to stop taking the drug as they are unable to deal with the feeling of withdrawal. Therefore, experts recommend in-patient detoxification for those addicted to opioids so that they can receive the medical and psychological attention they need during withdrawal. Although the physical dependence ends after detoxification, there may still be psychological dependencies that could cause the abuser to relapse. Short-acting opioids produce more intense but briefer withdrawal symptoms while a single dose of heroin can have a withdrawal reaction of one week. Doctors strongly advise against quitting “cold turkey,” as the side effects can be extremely uncomfortable. Research shows that the best method for withdrawing from opioid addiction is by combining psychological treatment while addressing the physical withdrawal in an inpatient rehab center.
If you or a loved one are suffering from opioid addiction and are not sure where to turn, contact a drug treatment center today to learn more about treatments that are available. You are not alone and there is help available to help fight opioid addiction, manage the symptoms of withdrawal and begin down the path of sobriety.