Even if you haven’t been paying attention, there’s a high likelihood you’ve heard about the opioid crisis. It may have been a story about big pharma being sued by governments for decimating their neighborhoods, or the death toll that has overrun drug users; it’s also likely that you’ve been affected one way or another by this crisis.

In a time where we are seeing 130 people die each day from an opioid overdose, the first responders and people in the communities have been completely overwhelmed. There are so many stories of people losing their loved ones, or friends who have lost friends. It’s a sad story that continues to be echoed in every city around the country, and unfortunately, it has no signs of letting up anytime soon. In our 243-year existence as a nation, we have never seen anything like this before.

Opioids have changed the shape of our existence, and the United States has had to take drastic measures to fight this seemingly losing battle. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did a study about opioids effects on our country financially, and it found that the economic burden of opioid use to our economy hovers around $78.5 billion annually. The cost stems from health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

These numbers affect those even not trapped in an opioid addiction as their tax dollars are being used to help these individuals. One way that opioids have adversely affected our culture is that for the third year in a row, the CDC has lowered life expectancy for the third year in a row. The U.S. is the first developed nation to see such as decline.

While life expectancy globally continues to increase due to advances in modern medicine, we are headed in the complete opposite direction. The U.S. has always been an innovator, a leader in health care and setting the bar for the world, but the three-year drop represents the longest sustained decline in expected lifespan since 1915 through 1918 when the country was overwhelmed by influenza.

Life expectancy gives a snapshot of the nation’s overall health according to Director of the CDC Robert R. Redfield, and he goes on to say that “these sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early, and too often, to conditions that are wholly preventable.”

Fortunately, the government is starting to crack down on the opioid crisis, and states have been suing big pharma companies for their role in this epidemic. Another first to include in our history books, the feds criminally charged a pharma distributor for their role in convincing doctors through kickbacks to prescribe their drugs.

Rochester Drug Cooperative faces charges for conspiring to distribute drugs and defrauding the federal government – after the company did not report thousands of suspicious orders of opioids, including oxycodone and fentanyl. Rochester is the sixth-largest distributor in the country. While the numbers indicate a country going in the wrong direction, these indictments and federal charges will make a difference in the end. Let’s delve a little deeper into opioid addiction.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of that include drugs such as heroin, synthetic opioids, and pain relievers that are available legally by prescription. They are often referred to as narcotics and are medications prescribed by doctors to treat persistent or severe pain. Individuals with headaches, backaches, or those recovering from surgery or experiencing severe pain associated with cancer are widely prescribed the drug to treat their ailments. There are many advocates against using the medications for pain relief, but there have been no new medications developed in that span.

Opioids depress the central nervous system (CNS) and attach themselves to proteins called opioid receptors on nerve cells in our brain, spinal cord, gut and other parts of the body. When this process occurs, the opiate drugs block pain messages sent from the body through the spinal cord to the brain. While they effectively relieve pain, opioids carry risks and can be highly addictive. The risk of addiction is extremely prevalent when opioids are used to treat chronic pain over long periods.

Types of Opioids

Several different types of opioid drugs of different strengths can treat chronic pain, or that people use to abuse. These drugs include:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Meperidine
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Heroin

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

It’s a complicated process to identify addiction in its early stages, and those who have prescriptions may mask it even better. Those who struggle with chronic pain can agree that opioids improve their quality of life exponentially, but it is a slippery slope between using the medications as prescribed and addiction.

There is a pattern than substance abuse follows, and you should become familiar with these signs. It will allow you an advantage to determine if someone you love is abusing drugs without your knowledge. It is also useful information for yourself if you believe you have fallen victim to addiction.

The first sign of a substance use disorder is tolerance. Tolerance is when the dose prescribed by your doctor starts to have little effect on you. That dose will gradually get weaker over time, and if someone increase to a stronger dose to achieve the initial results once felt when they began using, it can lead to physical dependence.

If you continue to use despite the tolerance, it will eventually lead to a chemical dependency when your body requires the drug to remain healthy. Dependence is closely related to addiction, but it’s not the same. Dependency is when the brain begins to rely on opioids to maintain balance from the chemicals the brain stopped producing on its own during drug use.

If you slow down or stop using and feel withdrawal symptoms, it could indicate you’ve developed a dependency. The symptoms have been described as having the flu and includes symptoms such as sweating, nausea, diarrhea, excessive yawning, and chills.

If you are concerned about opioid use, some behavioral signs to be aware of include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Lying about drug use
  • Trying to quit but failing despite multiple attempts
  • Hiding drugs around the house
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Decreased performance at work or school
  • Isolation

Addiction is the final stage of a substance use disorder, and it is defined as compulsive use of a drug despite serious consequences.

Opioid Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment is a crucial step in treating a substance use disorder. During treatment, the client will move through the continuum of care, which addresses all needs they have. Medical disorders will be treated as well as co-occurring disorders. Therapy that alters behaviors and supports long-term sobriety will be offered, and these programs are intensive and in-depth allowing for the client to explore all issues relating to their drug abuse.

The first stage of care will be medical detoxification where the client is medically monitored through withdrawals. It will be a three to seven-day process that can be medically managed. Once the client completes this portion, they will move into the next level of care.

During detox, they will be thoroughly assessed to determine which level of care best suits their needs. It could mean they are moved to residential treatment, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, or outpatient treatment. No matter the placement, it will allow them to understand themselves better and work toward earning their lives back.

Opioid Abuse Statistics

  • 21% to 29% of patients with opioid prescriptions abuse them
  • 191 million opioid prescriptions were filled in 2017
  • 80% of people who use heroin misused prescriptions first
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