Prescription Opioid Abuse Epidemic

Why has prescription opioid abuse become so common in the last several years? Read on to learn more.

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What Are Prescription Opioids?

Prescription opioid abuse has grown rapidly in the United States over the past several decades. This has led to what is now known as the opioid epidemic, which is a surge in opioid addiction that spans across the entire nation. But what are the causes of the opioid epidemic, how do opioid addiction and dependence develop, and what is the treatment for opioid addiction?

Prescription Opioid Abuse

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Common Prescription Opioids

The first step in understanding the opioid crisis is understanding exactly what prescription opioids are. Common prescription opioids include drugs such as:

  • Vicodin
  • Norco
  • OxyContin
  • Morphine
  • Lortab
  • Percocet

These drugs all fall into the class of opioids, which depress the central nervous system by activating specific opioid receptors. The first opioids were derived from the opium poppy plant and include substances like morphine, heroin, and opium. But in recent years, pharmaceutical companies have begun synthesizing opioids in the laboratory to make stronger prescription opioids.

Why Are Opioids Dangerous?

The effects of opioids can provide substantial relief from pain, but they also create an intense feeling of euphoria and relaxation. This euphoric feeling is often what leads to opioid addiction and dependence, as people continue to seek out prescription opioids over and over again to achieve this effect. But due to growing tolerance, opioid usage may increase over time, and debilitating withdrawal symptoms can occur if opioid use suddenly stops. 1

Why Do People Become Addicted to Opioids?

Like most other addictive drugs, opioids cause a large release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is considered to be the “reward” neurotransmitter, and it has been associated with behavior, learning, and addiction. After people have developed opioid dependence, their brain and body crave the rush of dopamine from the substance, making it incredibly difficult to break free from. 2

How Can You Avoid Addiction to Opioids?

There is one sure way to avoid opioid addiction: by never engaging in opioid abuse. If you have a prescription for opioids, always take them as your doctor recommends, and try to avoid long-term opioid use to manage the symptoms of pain.

What Is the Opioid Epidemic?

The opioid epidemic refers to the widespread over-prescription of opioid drugs that has occurred in the last couple of decades. Pharmaceutical companies marketed drugs like OxyContin as non-addictive pain relievers, despite the fact that these drugs have nearly identical drug action to substances such as heroin or morphine.
This led to doctors prescribing highly addictive drugs to their patients without a clear understanding of the damage these drugs could cause. Tolerance and eventual addiction became increasingly common across the country. Even after opioid prescriptions became more tightly controlled by federal regulations, opioid addiction and dependence continued to have devastating consequences for many people.

Relevant Statistics

Opioid epidemic statistics showcase this more than anything else, including: 3
These opioid epidemic statistics make it patently obvious that prescription opioid abuse is a significant problem in the United States. And while opioid addiction statistics have fallen somewhat in recent years, there is still a long way to go in terms of solving the opioid crisis.

What Are the Signs of an Addiction?

The signs of opioid addiction can be difficult to spot for people not aware of opioid abuse symptoms. Many people will attempt to hide substance use or try to minimize the effect that opioid use has on their lives. A few common signs of opioid addiction include:
  • Loss of interest in their favorite hobbies or activities
  • Chronic fatigue or sleepiness
  • Anxiety 
  • Feelings of depression
  • Financial hardship
  • Mood swings
People in the midst of opioid addiction can experience debilitating withdrawal symptoms when opioid use suddenly stops. Such symptoms can contribute to the challenge of stopping drug use long-term.

What Are Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms?

When opioid use occurs for extended periods, opioid dependence can develop. This means that the brain and body adjust to the stream of narcotic drugs within the system, and the body will start to react negatively if it stops receiving that substance. Some common opioid abuse symptoms include:
  • Drug cravings
  • Anxiety/Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors (Shaking)
  • Fever
In opioid addiction treatment, these symptoms can be alleviated through targeted medications and treatments. Medical care can reduce the intensity of these symptoms dramatically.

What Are the Symptoms of an Opioid Overdose?

Opioid overdose is a life-threatening consequence that can occur when too much of an opioid enters the body at once. The symptoms of overdose include:
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Inability to talk
  • Blue lips or skin
Prescription Opioid Abuse

Scope of Overdose

If you think somebody is experiencing an opioid overdose, contact 911 immediately. Paramedics carry a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose if they arrive in time.
In the last several years, opioid overdose statistics have shown that more people are dying from opioids than ever before. Common opioids implicated in overdose include synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil, which can be mixed into other drugs that are purchased on the street.

Are You at Risk for Having Problems with Opioids?

Certain factors may increase your risk of developing an opioid addiction. These risk factors include: 4
  • Having a family history of substance use disorders
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Prescription opioid use
  • Not having a strong base of sober peer support
Opioid use can happen to anyone and knowing the risk factors is important.

Get Help to Stop Prescription Opioid Abuse at Profound Recovery

Profound Recovery offers premier opioid addiction treatment for the people who need it most. If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid abuse, reach out to our team of professionals to hear about our comprehensive drug treatment options. Though opioid use disorders can be devastating, they are highly treatable, and you can recover with the help of Profound Recovery.

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