The opioid misuse and overdose crisis touches everyone in the United States. Every year millions of Americans use opioids to manage pain. Doctor-prescribed opioids are appropriate in some cases, but they just mask the pain—and reliance on opioids has led to the worst drug crisis in American history. However federal and state governments have only recently begun to grasp the magnitude of this public health crisis. 

There is power in knowledge, and if you suspect you or someone you love is struggling with addiction during the opioid epidemic we are here to help. Read on to learn the facts about opioids, the cause and effect of addiction, and how medically assisted treatment can save lives. 

Opioid Crisis | Addiction, Withdrawal, And Treatment

What are Opioids? 

Opioids are a type of medicine often used to help relieve pain. They work by lowering the number of pain signals your body sends to your brain. They also change how your brain responds to pain. Doctors most often prescribe opioids to relieve pain from: 

  • Toothaches and dental procedures 
  • Injuries 
  • Surgeries 
  • Chronic conditions such as cancer and fibromyalgia 

Opioids reduce the perception of pain, but can also cause drowsiness, mental confusion, euphoria, nausea and constipation. At high doses they can depress respiration. Prescription pain relievers include oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and others. Synthetic opioids include fentanyl, methadone, pethidine, tramadol and carfentanil. 

Opioid vs Opiate vs Narcotic

The term opiates refers to natural or slightly modified components of opium such as codeine, morphine and heroin. The term opioids was originally used for synthetic opiates such as Oxycontin and Fentanyl. But now is used for the entire class of drugs. Narcotics is an older name originally referring to any mind-altering compound with sleep-inducing properties.

Opioid Crisis: Why Do People Become Addicted to Opioids?

Addiction is a disease that affects your brain and your behavior. At first, you have control over your choice to start using drugs. If you misuse a drug, its pleasurable effect eventually makes you want to keep using it. Over time, your brain actually changes in certain ways so that you develop a powerful urge to use the drug. Opioids can make your brain and body believe the drug is necessary for survival. 

As you learn to tolerate the dose you’ve been prescribed, you may find that you need even more medication to relieve the pain or achieve well-being, which can lead to dependency. Addiction takes hold of our brains in several ways — and is far more complex and less forgiving than many people realize.

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

When taken as prescribed by a physician, opioids can safely and significantly reduce pain associated with surgery or any type of intense physical pain. However, taking an opioid over a long period of time can lead to tolerance and dependence. The opioid crisis, the misuse of and addiction to opioids, is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare. In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose during the opioid crisis, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. That same year, an estimated 1.7 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 652,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder.

Symptoms can only be experienced by the person with the addiction, whereas signs can be observed by other people. You might see some of these signs and symptoms but not others in an addicted person, but you can still be addicted even if you do not have all of them.

Common signs of addiction include:

  • Secretiveness
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Financially unpredictable, perhaps having large amounts of cash at times but no money at all at other times
  • Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends
  • Repeated unexplained outings, often with a sense of urgency
  • Drug paraphernalia 
  • “Stashes” of drugs, often in small plastic, paper or foil packages

Common symptoms of addiction include:

  • Changes in energy – unexpectedly and extremely tired or energetic
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Unexpected and persistent coughs or sniffles
  • Seeming unwell at certain times and better at other times
  • Pupils of the eyes seeming smaller or larger than usual
  • Difficulty cutting down or controlling the addictive behavior
  • Tolerance, which is the need to engage in the addictive behavior more and more to get the desired effect

Understanding Opioid Addiction and the Brain

Even in a short period of time, opioids can negatively affect the health of the brain. While an opioid has the ability to bind to the brain’s pleasure receptors & manage pain effectively, an opioid also attaches to non-pleasure receptors in the brain & spinal cord, which masks pain in the body. Opioids change the chemistry of the brain and lead to drug tolerance, which means that over time the dose needs to be increased to achieve the same effect. 

Taking opioids over a long period of time produces dependence, such that when people stop taking the drug, they have physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal (such as muscle cramping, diarrhea, and anxiety). Dependence is not the same thing as addiction; although everyone who takes opioids for an extended period will become dependent, only a small percentage also experience the compulsive, continuing need for the drug that characterizes addiction.

Do You Have an Opioid Addiction?

The opioid crisis is affecting millions of Americans a year, but you do not have to fall victim. People who take potentially addictive drugs as prescribed rarely abuse them or become addicted. But taking them not as prescribed or for an extended period of time increases the risk of misuse and addiction. Studies suggest that up to one-third of people who take opioids for chronic pain misuse them, and more than 10 percent become addicted over time. If you suspect you have an opioid addiction, consider these questions. 

  • Has your use of opioids increased over time?
  • Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using?
  • Do you use more than you would like, or more than is prescribed?
  • Have you experienced negative consequences to your using?
  • Have you put off doing things because of your drug use?
  • Do you find yourself thinking obsessively about getting or using your drug?
  • Have you made unsuccessful attempts at cutting down your drug use?

Withdrawal from opioids can be difficult and even dangerous. Trying to quit “cold turkey” is not recommended, ASAM advises, because it can lead to stronger cravings and continued use. The safest way to alleviate opioid withdrawal symptoms is through medically supervised treatment that generally includes medicines, counseling and support.

How Medically Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction Can Help

Has an opioid addiction turned someone you care about into “somebody else”? Is there something that can be done to help your friend or loved one overcome this addiction? Medication-assisted treatment is one way to help those with opioid addiction recover their lives.

There are three, equally important parts to this form of treatment:

• Medication • Counseling • Support from family and friends. 

At Harmony Ridge Recovery Center, we offer medication-assisted treatment to our patients with opioid addiction. It gives them an alternative form of therapy aside from the typical abstinence-based treatment.  Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat substance abuse. Medication-assisted treatment is normally used to treat opioid use disorders but has helped other types in the past. Sometimes other effects from these medications can hinder the recovery process, but they help more often than not. This therapy can be combined with others, like behavioral and group therapies, in order to achieve the desired results of sobriety.

We understand that ceasing drug use without the help of medication is sometimes not the best option for our patients. In our medication-assisted treatment here at Harmony Ridge, our staff is available 24/7 to manage the different prescribed medications. 

How the Harmony Ridge Recovery Center is Fighting the Opioid Crisis

If you or a loved one is ready to seek help for an addiction, the first step is to find a physician or other health professional who can help. We are here to provide you with helpful information, guidance, and medically assisted treatment to combat addiction to opioids. In order to obtain your normal life back, it is more than likely you will need some form of substance abuse treatment. Please contact us today, and we will help you start your journey to recovery.