Recently, according to news reports, the epidemic involving opioid addiction and overdose deaths was calculated to cost the United States an astounding $1 trillion per year.
A bipartisan congressional report says the ongoing problem with opioid addiction is a threat to national security and the country’s global competitiveness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the 12 months ending in April, the U.S. experienced a record-breaking number of overdose deaths. There were 100,306 overdose deaths during that period. That figure is a 28.5% increase from the year before when 78,056 deaths were attributed to overdoses.
Lawmakers describe the epidemic as having a devastating impact. The CDC estimates from 1999 to 2019, opioids killed almost 500,000 Americans. In total, there are more than a million drug overdose deaths.
So what should we know about how to fight opioid addiction? There are public health and public policy-level solutions discussed by organizations like the National Institute on Drug Abuse. We also have to talk about how to treat addiction and the opioid crisis individually when dealing with it in our own lives.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs that produce different effects on the brain and body. Patients take prescription opioids for pain relief, including chronic and acute pain. There are also street drugs which are opioids, including heroin, the most frequently used illicit opioid.
Both prescription and illegal substances in this drug class are similar to one another, potentially leading to a substance use disorder. They can block pain signals sent from the body to the brain. In a medical setting, opioids are typically for moderate to severe pain.
Common opioid prescription drugs include Vicodin and OxyContin.
Fentanyl is also a prescription opioid, but it’s increasingly being manufactured in black market labs and sold on the streets, often to unknowing people. This synthetic opioid is incredibly potent, contributing to many of the fatal overdose situations happening in the U.S. right now.
What Are the Effects of Opioids?
Opioids activate certain receptors on nerve cells. These opioid receptors are in the gut, spinal cord, and brain. When the drugs attach to the receptor sites, they block pain messages.
According to the Mental Health Services Administration, general side effects include drowsiness, constipation, and nausea.
- Opioid medications and illicit versions slow down the central nervous system.
- The CNS controls the functions that keep us alive, like breathing and heart rate. The slowdown is why the symptoms include drowsiness and nodding off.
- Some people also experience euphoria because taking opioid drugs triggers a flood of feel-good chemicals in their brains.
- If a person takes a large dose, it can slow their central nervous system down to a dangerous level, causing an opioid overdose.
- Symptoms of an overdose include shallow breathing, a slow or erratic heart rate, and loss of consciousness.
If a doctor prescribes opioids, they should go over the risks and side effects with patients. Due to the opioid epidemic, many health care providers are much more careful about prescribing these medications in general and only do so when all other options have been tried.
- If someone takes opioids exactly as prescribed for a short period of time, the risks are still there but are lower.
- Opioid abuse occurs whenever someone takes these drugs outside of the way their treatment provider intends.
- For example, taking a larger dose of prescription pain relievers than instructed is an example of abuse. You don’t have to have an addiction to abuse opioids, but abusive use patterns raise the risk of addiction.
Doctors often encourage their patients to explore non-drug therapies for acute and chronic pain to avoid the risks associated with narcotic painkillers. Nondrug treatments can include massage, physical therapy, acupuncture, and massage.
How Does Opioid Addiction Start?
Anyone who uses these substances, by prescription or otherwise, is at risk of developing an addiction to opioids.
The higher the doses and the longer you use the drug class, the more likely an addiction will occur.
Addiction is a chronic disease affecting the brain, behavior, and physical health.
- When you first take opioids, you may experience euphoria or pleasant relaxation. Those feelings come from a flood of neurotransmitters like dopamine into your brain.
- With the effects on the brain’s feel-good chemicals, your reward response in your brain is active.
- Under normal circumstances, we may experience a reward response when we do something pleasant, like having sex or a great meal. However, the flood of brain chemicals that occurs with opioids is much higher than what comes from these activities.
- Your brain compels you to want to keep seeking out whatever it was that made it feel good. In the case of opioids, it’s, unfortunately, a dangerous drug.
- While taking a drug at first is a choice, it’s no longer within your control once addiction forms. You compulsively seek out and use drugs because you have a chronic disease.
- With addiction, your number one priority is getting more of the drug at the cost of essentially everything else in your life.
- Physical dependence can also occur. With opioid dependence, your brain has adjusted to the presence of the drugs and needs them to function “normally.” When you stop, and you’re dependent, you’ll go through symptoms of withdrawal.
How to Fight Opioid Addiction
When it comes to how to treat opioid addiction and how to fight it, what’s important to know is there are many options available.
People often ask what percentage of opioid addicts recover, and while it’s a difficult number to track, there are promising indicators. The relapse rates for heroin and other opioids are around the same rates for other chronic diseases, and continuing care significantly lowers these rates.
Getting treatment is the best way to recover.
Treatment for heroin or opioid use disorder often includes;
- Medical detox—the early stages of treatment are the most difficult, including withdrawal. In a medical detox program, you can receive withdrawal treatment that includes medication and monitoring. Medical detox helps you stay comfortable and safe, increasing the likelihood of moving into the next phase of your treatment.
- Treatment—there are many treatment centers and programs, and formats available. Inpatient or residential rehab is comprehensive and ensures you’re in a safe, stable environment. There’s also outpatient rehab, continuing care, 12-step programs, and recovery groups.
- Aftercare—a good recovery program should include aftercare as part of your recovery. Aftercare will consist of detailed steps you’ll continue to take once you leave treatment to maintain long-term recovery.
- Medication-assisted treatment—uniquely with opioid addiction, there is medication-assisted treatment or MAT. There are medicines with FDA approval that help with dependence and psychological addiction to heroin and other opioids, such as buprenorphine. These medicines help with withdrawal symptoms and work along with behavioral therapies to holistically help you get on a path to recovery.
If you’re ready to learn more about the effective treatment options for opioid addiction and drug addiction and how to fight opioid addiction, at least on an individual level, we’re here and available to provide the information you need. The Right Time Recovery can help you as you explore treatment programs in Southern California and navigate the path to a successful recovery, just call us at 800-630-1218.