The United States is facing an opioid addiction crisis that shows no sign of slowing down. Each year, the crisis boasts unfathomable numbers that continue to claim lives. More information needs to be available to learn about the symptoms of opioid addiction to help slow the crisis and curb deaths. Fatal overdoses have become increasingly common in some cities in the country. From 1999 to 2016, there were 630,000 deaths attributed to overdose, and 63,000 alone involved an opioid. On average, 115 Americans die daily from opioid overdose
One factor contributing to the sharp uptick in overdose deaths over the years is synthetic opioids. Drugs like fentanyl have emerged on the black market for a fraction of the cost of heroin, but it is nearly 50 times the strength of that drug. These are perfect breeding conditions for fatalities. Those who sell heroin get greedy and see money to be made on drugs like fentanyl. An unsuspecting drug user can purchase what they think is a bag of heroin, consume their usual dose, and only later realize that what was consumed was fentanyl. If they’re by themselves, they can be dead within 15 minutes.
Drug cartels found a market in fentanyl because of its strength, cost, and accessibility. They purchase the precursor from China and then synthesize the fentanyl in clandestine labs in Mexico. Once completed, they transport the drugs north into the United States, where they are distributed. Once the government clamped down on prescription opioids, many users turned to the black market to continue their cycle of addiction. The numbers show that it has led to a catastrophic result.
Opioids are highly addictive, and those who get lost in the grip of opioid addiction often find it difficult to stop on their own. The one benefit of the government getting involved and declaring a state of emergency from opioids is that access to treatment has become an easier prospect than in the past. If you find that you can’t stop taking opioids, you will gradually require more and more over time. Prolonged use of the drug will make it harder to quit because of the uncomfortable withdrawals in the absence of opioids. Withdrawal symptoms consist of:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- Cold sweats
- Excessive yawning
- Dilated pupils
- Abdominal cramping
While opioid withdrawals are not usually deadly, they can be severe. Attempting to stop using opioids on your own often yields poor results. Addiction specialists suggest seeking professional help at a facility because of the physical and psychological symptoms that accompany drug withdrawal.
Opioids and the Brain
Opioid addiction affects the mind, body, and soul, but it has an astounding effect on our brains. Opioids bind to naturally occurring receptors in our brain. When consuming opioids, they bind to these natural receptors and activate them instantly. This, in turn, creates an influx of pleasure, or what is often referred to as the high. Large amounts of dopamine are released each time the drug is consumed.
The effects from the drug do not last nearly as long as you’d expect, and opioid abuse will leave you depleted of dopamine.
A lack of dopamine in the user’s system can create overwhelming feelings of depression, anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide.
The constant rush of dopamine in the brain from outside sources makes the brain produce less dopamine than it did before. The brain will eventually grow used to this and gradually respond less and less to the drugs. This is an indication that tolerance is building, and you will require much more of the drug to feel an effect.
Codeine is a weaker opioid that can be prescribed as a liquid cough suppressant as well as a pill. The drink called “sizzurp” that is glamorized by music contains codeine. While it is a weaker opioid, it is still dangerous. Those who drink codeine can quickly become addicted to opioids if used in excess.
Demerol (generic names meperidine and pethidine) is a synthetic opioid that is used for short-term acute pain relief. It is not commonly prescribed outside of a hospital setting.
Dilaudid (generic name hydromorphone) is a powerful prescription pain reliever that is used in a hospital setting. It can be prescribed by a doctor after a major operation. It is a much more powerful drug than its derivative, morphine.
Fentanyl is the popular synthetic opioid that has been plaguing the nation. It is among the most potent painkillers in existence and is responsible for thousands of death yearly. When used as prescribed it is given in the form of a skin patch. Fentanyl users use the medication to manage severe, chronic pain. It is only prescribed when chronic pain sufferers have developed a high opioid tolerance, and other medications stop working.
Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid that is derived from codeine. It is one of the most prescribed pain medications in the world. It is stronger than codeine but weaker than drugs like oxycodone. It is prescribed for mild-to-moderate pain.
Methadone is used to treat opioid withdrawals. It is highly effective in reducing withdrawal symptoms of any opioid, but because it is an opioid can lead to addiction. Using methadone in conjunction with other opioids can be dangerous.
Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic and powerful opioid. It is used to treat moderate-to-severe pain. It is found in drugs like OxyContin and Percocet. This is the drug that feeds and contributes to the nation’s opioid epidemic. It has the power to immediately relieve pain, but its highly addictive qualities have the power to steal your life.
Suboxone is often referred to as “subs.” It is a partial opioid, meaning it attaches to opioid receptors in the brain but does not activate them. It alleviates symptoms of opioid addiction withdrawal instantly. It is the most commonly used opioid to treat addiction and dependency.
Opioid Addiction Treatment
While addiction is a life-threatening disease, it is very treatable. Access to treatment over the years has become a lot easier, and those suffering have the option to take back their lives. When you enter into an accredited facility, you can take solace in that the medical staff is trained in cutting-edge advances in addiction treatment.
Your well-being and safety are at the top of the priority list. Once you enter treatment, you will wonder why you put it off so long.
These individuals are caring and will treat with you with dignity. Treatment will allow you to get to the root of your addiction through a series of therapies and understanding.
As mentioned earlier in the article, attempting to forgo sobriety on your own is not the right way. Addiction specialists recommend that you begin recovery in a medical detoxification center to ensure the long-term success of your treatment. This is the most intensive portion of care that will keep you on-site for three to seven days depending on the severity of the addiction. You will have 24-hour-day access to a medical staff that will be responsible for your well-being. In the event of tough withdrawals, they will administer medication that allows the transition to be a bit smoother.
Depending on the severity of your addiction, the medical plan the staff created may place you in residential treatment. You will live in a facility for up to 90 days with a group of other individuals on the road to recovery. You will participate in individual, group, and even family therapies daily. The therapies are geared toward promoting the understanding of the underlying problems that contributed to your addiction. Continuing in treatment after detox can mean the difference between long-term recovery and relapse.
This option is best for those whose addiction is not severe, and for those who have a busy life filled with responsibilities they cannot neglect. For some, their jobs or education may hold them back from getting treatment, but this option allows the client to continue participating in their daily lives while getting help. They will attend the same treatments one would come to expect from residential, but the difference is they can go home afterward. Outpatient allows for the client to remain connected to the recovery community and avoid relapse.
Opioid Abuse Statistics
- 80 percent of those who abused prescription painkillers transition to heroin
- Opioid overdoses increased by 70% in the U.S. Midwest between July 2016 and September 2017
The opioid epidemic costs the United States an estimated $78.5 billion every year