The United States Department of Health and Human Services reports that approximately 9.7 million people in America misuse prescription opioids used to treat pain. Two out of three overdose deaths involve opioids, making opiate addiction a national health crisis. Around 80% of people who use illegal opioids started out taking prescription medication. Despite the push within the last decade to limit the use of opioids to treat chronic conditions, one in three people with medicare end up getting this type of medication.
Between 1999 and 2019, a half-million overdose deaths were linked to illegal and prescription opioids. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an increase of up to 6-15% in overdose deaths. Opiate addiction is a dangerous epidemic.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include:
Opioids can be highly effective when used under the direction of a medical professional; however, they are highly addictive. The conditions they treat are often chronic, leading to a high percentage of people building a tolerance and then purposefully misusing their medication or transitioning to stronger illegal versions of the drugs for pain relief or to manage discomfort. Opioids can come in the form of syrup, suppositories, tablets, capsules, or various solutions.
If you believe that a loved one may be experiencing opiate addiction, there are a few signs that you may notice. The United States National Library of Medicine lists the following as some common physical signs and behavioral changes that might indicate prescription misuse or illegal opioid abuse:
Each drug will have specific side effects and symptoms indicating misuse. Hydrocodone drugs are the most commonly prescribed opioid in the United States and, along with oxycodone and morphine, make up some of the most addictive prescribed substances. Not everyone who takes opioids regularly will become addicted, and currently, it is unknown what causes some people to develop addiction while others do not. However, some risk factors are known, including:
The side effects that manifest will vary depending on multiple factors, including the type of drug, length of addiction, drug dose, and comorbidities. Some opioids are incredibly dangerous and can be lethal the first time they are misused. The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists the following short-term side effects:
Even a single dose of an opioid can be fatal, but people who survive taking it over a period of time may notice the following long-term side effects:
The most common therapy and treatment options for opioid abuse include psychotherapy and opioid agonist therapy (OAT). Medications that might be used during rehabilitation and continuing care include taking opioid agonists such as methadone (Methadose) and buprenorphine (Suboxone). Effective psychotherapy options include:
When you choose to attend a treatment program, a care team will help you determine which approach will work best. Depending on the dose of opiate you are on, transitioning off the medication might take slightly longer, which might extend the withdrawal period. The most successful treatments are in private or community-based facilities. Having medical professionals available 24/7 removes some of the stress and health dangers present if you were using outpatient treatment. You should never attempt to go “cold turkey” at home alone due to the extremely high risk of death or severe injury. There is no set timeline for opioid detox and withdrawal because some drugs are longer-acting than others, and the starting dose will impact how long detox takes.