The death rates from the intake of opioids are increasing at alarming rates. Research has shown that about 140 deaths occur daily in the US related to drug overdose; of this approximate 140, about 91 are due to misuse of opioids. Excessive intake has caused more deaths than accidents, gun violence and even H.I.V in the US. Although last year there was a recorded decline in drug mortality rate since 1990, we’re still very far from the mark of reducing and eventually eradicating opioids abuse. The abuse is a serious national crisis that has affected public health and socio-economic welfare. In the US alone, the estimated cost for the attempts made to reduce opioid misuse is up to $78.5 billion a year with healthcare costs, treatments for addictions and loss in productivity included.

WHAT ARE OPIOIDS?

Opioids are pain-relieving drugs. They work by activating receptors in the brain to minimize the way the body perceives pain. Opioid drugs activate opioid receptors in the spinal cord, brain and other organs of the body, especially those involved with either pain or pleasure. When an individual takes opioids, the drugs are attached to these receptors in the body and block the signal of pain sent to the body from the brain and release a hormone known as dopamine all over the body in large quantities. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate a lot of functions in the body. Since they are also involved in the feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, they can play a part in addiction. The opioid receptors belong to a family of proteins known as G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR). The most common types of opioids in use include; Oxycodone (OxyContin), Morphine, Codeine, Fentanyl, Methadone and Vicodin. They naturally help to reduce pain in the body, and its the misuse that leads to health problems.

WHY DO PEOPLE MISUSE OPIOIDS?

Opioids contain substances that can make people feel relaxed and high. This is very dangerous as they are addictive, and continuous intake of such addictive substances for the sole aim of feeling relaxed can cause an addiction in the individual.

HOW CAN ONE MISUSE OPIOIDS?

Usually, opioids are used to relieve pain since they are very effective for that purpose. However, like every other thing in the world, they can be misused. Here are some of the ways opioids can be misused;

  • Taking more than the prescribed dosage: Sometimes, after noting the soothing effects of opioids on the body, individuals tend to take more pills than prescribed by a doctor. The excessive dosage is a misuse of the drug.
  • Taking dosages without prescription: People even go as far as self-prescribing the drugs. They buy the opioids themselves and take it for the sole purpose of getting high or feeling relaxed.
  • Taking another person’s prescription can also be seen as a misuse of the drug.

ABOUT THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC

In the late 90s, hospitals and health centers began to sell and prescribe opioids in large quantities. This was possibly because they assured the medical community that they are not addictive. Therefore, people began to consume more and more of opioids. However, the result of this was not as expected as there was widespread misuse of this medication. Thousands of people began to abuse these pain-relieving feel-good drugs. In a short expanse of time, it became quite clear that they are very addictive. In 2017, over 47,000 deaths were recorded from the abuse of these drugs. Also, about 1.7 million people suffered from disorders related to misuse of drugs including opioids, with about 652,000 people suffering from heroin use disorder.

STATISTICS RELATED TO THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC

  • In large cities, there was a 54% increase in the misuse of opioids in about 16 states.
  • About 80% of the cases related to heroin were first opioid misuse cases.
  • Between 8 and 12% of people develop an opioid use disorder.
  • Between 2016 and 2017, there was a 70% increase in opioid overdoses in the Midwestern region.

RISKS AND SIDE-EFFECTS OF OPIOIDS

Although opioids are known for their positive pain-relieving effects, there are also some side effects of misusing them. There are short and long term effects.

Short term effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Euphoria
  • Constipation
  • Coma
  • Slowed breathing

Long term effects:

Addiction is the most dangerous long term effect of the constant use of opioid substances. When the body gets accustomed to it, addiction is almost a certainty, and addictions are harmful. Also, muscle and bone weakness, aches, insomnia, vomiting, slow metabolism, and chronic diseases are long term effects of opioid abuse.

TOLERANCE, DEPENDENCE, AND ADDICTION

Tolerance is a term strongly related to long term users of opioids. It means that the previous dosage that was consumed by a user must increase in order to achieve the same high effect. They also need more frequent usage of the drug.

When people frequently use opioids, their neurons adapt to the substance, thereby making the neurons unable to function correctly without the presence of the drug in the system. The psychological effect can range from mild to major psychological consequences. In some cases, the consequences can be life-threatening. Most times, when an addict has been reduced to a state of dependence, they have to rely on medical support to be able to overcome their dependence.

Addiction is an impulsive act. The addicted person(s) cannot function properly without the substance of their choice. Addiction causes adverse effects to the brain and these, in turn, can lead to harmful behaviors, and in some severe cases, mental disorder.

FAQs CONCERNING OPIOIDS

  • What increases the chance of an opioid overdose?
    • Factors like tolerance level, the content of substances used, strength variation and use of multiple substances.
  • Can a doctor’s prescription lead to addiction?
    • Yes, it can. Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is common with the repeated use of opioids.
  • What kind of treatment can be administered to addicted patients?
    • Behavioral counseling, medications, medical devices/applications that treat symptoms or deliver skills training, and lots of other methods can be used to treat addicted patients. Common medicines used are buprenorphine and methadone, which can help to reduce cravings. There are also a lot of therapies that can increase a healthy life and help overcome addiction.

WHAT STEPS ARE HEALTH INSTITUTIONS TAKING TO CURB THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC

The National Institute of Health is a top medical research agency in the US. They are discovering new ways of preventing the opioid epidemic and taking several preventive measures to help addicts. Some of the steps taken include;

  • Providing required support for the research needed to fight opioids.
  • Provision of overdose-reversing drugs.
  • Promotion of safe and non-addictive strategies to manage pain.
  • Providing better and more accessible treatment.
  • Making recovery services more affordable.

TREATMENT FOR OPIOID ADDICTION

There have been lots of successful cases of addicts getting treated and their addiction completely ending after very effective treatments. Opioids can be treated by drugs and by behavioral therapies.

Two drugs, methadone and buprenorphine, are very effective in reducing withdrawal and cravings. Naloxone can also be used to treat opioids addiction. They can function by acting on the same target in the brain that the drugs act on. It is just like substituting one addiction with another except, in this case, this is a treatment with no harmful effect. The drugs could be required for months or years depending on the level of addiction of the person involved. Naltrexone works by taking away the high feeling one can get by using opioids. It is taken to prevent a relapse. Therefore an addict has to be off the drug for at least seven days before they can take naltrexone.

Individual counseling can also effectively curb addiction to opioids. There are some helpful methods that involve setting goals and celebrating progress. Some counseling therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), contingency management and motivational enhancement therapies are used in individual counseling. There is also group counseling and, in some cases, family counseling, which involves being counseled in the presence of spouses, partners, and people that you love.

Other counseling treatments include peer support groups, employment support, Spiritual and faith-based groups, and other related groups.

There is a noticeable decline in the misuse of opioids, but new steps and measures can be taken to better manage and control this life-threatening addiction. The opioid epidemic causes harm to all involved thereby posing a threat to the nation in general. People should take preventive measures to ensure that they fight against the spread of opioid abuse and help to save lives.

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