What are opioids?
Opioids are considered part of the class of drugs such as synthetic opioids fentanyl, prescription pain relievers as oxycodone or OxyContyn, hydrocodone or Vicodin, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, methadone, oxymorphone, and tapentadol.
Prescription opioids used to treat moderate and severe pain, and are commonly prescribed post surgeries or injuries, and cancer. Most recently, the opioids are prescribed for chronic back pains and osteoporosis.
According to NIDA, National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 130 people in the US die every day from an opioid overdose. Opioid abuse and addiction had become a national crisis, and it had spread its devastating effects on public health and welfare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states the total economic hardship of prescription opioid abuse costs the United States over $78.5 billion a year.
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How do opioids affect the brain?
Most opioids share a similar chemical structure and bind with opioid receptors found in the brain, spinal cords, and other areas to diminish the messages of pain to the brain and reduce pain sensation.
Prescription opioids intended for pain relief are commonly known to be safe if taken in prescribed dosages, and for a limited time. However, many patients misuse drugs due to their potency to produce euphoria along with pain relief. Opioids misused when taken in large quantities and without a prescription. Such abuse of opioids may lead to dependence, addiction, overdose, and death.
What are the effects of Opioids use?
If a person continues to take opioids for a long period, his body reduces the production of endorphins, and it leads to a condition called tolerance. Tolerance occurs when the same amount of opioids taken are no longer produce the same sensations of pleasure. Opioid addiction becomes present when a person with developed tolerance to opioids starts to take much higher dosages, to achieve euphoric feelings. While medical professionals are aware of opioids induced risks for dependence and addiction, by managing dosage intake in their patients, some individuals seek drugs through illegal outlets. Illegally obtained drugs may be laced with powerful toxins that may cause overdose and death.
Some of the early signs of opioid side effects include:
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- respiratory depression
- memory loss
- gastro-intestinal issues
- hormonal disfunction
- muscle stiffness
- depression and confusion
- sweating and skin irritations
- tolerance-the need to take more medications to treat the same pain
- physical dependence- a person may experience withdrawal symptoms if medications are stopped
What is opioid addiction?
If a person misuses opioids it may lead to addiction. Opioids addiction is a disorder that causes an individual to compulsively use and seek drugs. It often associates with unbearable cravings for the drug and continues to use drugs despite damaging health consequences. Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to seek and use drugs, and may inadvertently lead to overdose and death.
Some early signs of drug addiction:
- inability to stop taking drugs
- mood swings
- depression and anxiety
- speech impediments
- spending money on drugs
- neglecting work, school, and job
- personal hygiene neglect
- stealing from family and friends
- decreased libido
- respiratory issues
- weight loss
- isolation from others to use drugs
- doctor shopping (going from doctor to doctor to get multiple prescriptions)
- development of opioid use disorder
Opioid use disorder may be diagnosed by a medical practitioner. Diagnosis may include medical assessment and mental health evaluation.
What are the withdrawal symptoms of opioid addiction?
If opioids are used repeatedly for a long time, a person may develop dependence and tolerance to the drug. Tolerance occurs when a person no longer experiences the same effects and starts to take higher dosages to reach initial results. If a person stops using opioids medications abruptly and is physically dependent on the medication, it may result in manifestation of some withdrawal symptoms:
- muscle pains
- excessive sweating
- rapid heart rate
- high blood pressure
- impaired vision
- abdominal pains
- uncontrollable leg movements
Is there opioid addiction treatment?
Treatment for opioid addiction varies from person to person. Treatment plans are based on the individual needs of the patient, duration of drug use, the severity of medications used, and co-existing mental health disorders. The most effective type of drug rehab treatment includes a combination of medications and cognitive-behavioral therapy. A medical professional may prescribe medications to help curb cravings and relieve withdrawal symptoms. Some medications include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. These medications work by altering opioid receptors in the brain.
Behavioral treatment can help recovering individuals identify the cause of drug use, learn to cope with life’s stress without using drugs, obtain skills to manage cravings, avoid triggers and relapse. In addition to behavioral therapy, it is recommended to undergo individual and group counseling to share recovery experience with peers, and develop relationships for support groups. Family support is a critical component of a successful recovery.