Opioid Abuse and Prescription Painkiller Addiction

Opioid abuse and prescription painkiller addiction are among the biggest problems facing the U.S. In fact, the CDC has even referred to the opioid problem in our country as being an epidemic.

There are different types of opioid or opiate drugs that can lead to abuse and addiction. Considering the fact that abuse and addiction rates are climbing, it's important to know what they are.

In fact, if you have an opioid addiction, or you're participating in opioid abuse, you need to know about them. You may be using opiates without realizing the dangers of doing so. Unfortunately, so many people in the United States are in the same situation as you.

The more you know about opioid drugs, the better. Whether you're using painkillers, or another type of opiate, this information is crucial for you.

What is an Opioid Medication?

What are opioids? This is a question you may be asking yourself if you have been using prescription painkillers. Opioid medications are those that are prescribed by a doctor, usually for the treatment of pain.

Doctors are advised to be careful about giving patients prescribed painkillers. However, that doesn't stop many of them from overprescribing these drugs. When they are used for short periods of time, they are relatively safe, and quite effective.

Unfortunately, far too many doctors are prescribing them for long periods. They give them to patients with chronic or ongoing pain. This means that there are many people in the U.S. who have been taking them for years.

In some parts of the United States, opioid prescriptions have gone down. However, these drugs are still used too often. This has certainly contributed to the opioid problem in our country.

Opioid Addiction

Heroin and Opium: Illegal Opioid Drugs

Heroin is also an opioid drug. However, it is an illegal one. This wasn't always the case, though.

In 1874, heroin was first made by C.R. Alder Wright. He used morphine to create this drug, which is derived from the poppy plant. Originally, heroin was thought to be quite effective at treating and controlling pain. It wasn't until later that its addictive properties were discovered.

Today, heroin is considered to be a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs are highly addictive, and their potential for abuse is high. In the United States, they serve no legitimate medical purpose.

Opium is another illegal opiate drug. It is not as popular as heroin in the United States. However, in other countries, opium use is not only widespread, but it is also legal.

Opium is considered to be a Schedule II narcotic in the U.S. The only way opium is ever considered legal is when it has been refined into prescription opiates.

Heroin use is on the rise, along with the use of prescription painkillers. As one of many opioid drugs, heroin is often the go-to choice when prescription opiates aren't available. We'll discuss this further in just a moment.

A Complete Opioid List for Your Reference

There are so many opioid drugs that can lead to addiction. It's possible that one or more of these is in your medicine cabinet right now. You may not have even known you had a highly addictive opiate medication in your home.

Opioid prescription pain pills should always be labeled as addictive. However, these labels often go unchecked. Do you recognize any of the drugs on this opioid list?

  • Amytal
  • Codeine
  • Darvon
  • Demerol
  • Dilaudid
  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Kratom
  • Lorcet
  • Lortab
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Opana
  • Opium
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Percocet
  • Vicodin

If you recognize any of these opioid drugs or prescription pain killers, please be forewarned. These drugs can be dangerous when they are misused. Unfortunately, so many people don't realize this. In fact, there are many who become addicted to opiates unintentionally.

Many of the opioid drugs on the above list are considered to be very strong pain killers. There are quite a few of them that are regularly prescribed for people with debilitating pain. These opioids include:

  • Codeine
  • Darvon
  • Demerol
  • Dilaudid
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Lorcet
  • Lortab
  • Morphine
  • Opana
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Percocet

Several on this list are prescribed frequently because they are thought to be more effective. Among these are Vicodin, Percocet and Oxycodone. Morphine is often given to patients in hospitals prior to surgery. It can be prescribed on an outpatient basis, but usually, it is not.

These opiate drugs are very strong pain killers. They are effective at controlling pain, but they can also cause a sensation of euphoria. This euphoria is often what leads people to become addicted to them.

Opioid conversion is a term that is sometimes used by medical professionals and opiate abusers. It is a way of calculating specific dosages for opiate drugs based on tolerated dosages of other opiates.

Someone who is addicted to an opiate like Vicodin may use opioid conversion. This is useful to determine what the appropriate dosage of a different opiate might be. In this way, it can help to protect the individual against using too much of the newer opioid drug. However, it can also be used to increase dosages when tolerance levels have been reached.

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Painkiller and Opiate Addiction Statistics in the United States

The use of painkillers and other opiates in the United States has indeed risen to critical levels. Once you take a look at the statistics, it's no wonder this problem has been called an epidemic.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine:

  • 2 million people in the U.S. had a substance disorder that involved prescription painkillers in 2015.
  • 591,000 people had a substance use disorder involving heroin during that same year.
  • About 23% of people who use heroin eventually develop an opioid addiction.
  • In 2015, 276,000 teenagers used prescription pain killers without a prescription.
  • Of that number, 122,000 of them had an addiction to prescription pain pills.
  • 21,000 teenagers also used heroin at least once during 2015.
  • Of that number 5,000 of these teens admitted to being current heroin users.
  • In 2014, about 6,000 teenagers in the United States had a heroin use disorder.
  • Most teenagers who misuse opiate drugs receive them for free from a friend or relative.
  • The prescribing rates for prescription opiates among teens and young adults almost doubled from 1994 to 2007.
  • Women are much more likely to be prescribed painkillers than men.
  • When women are prescribed painkillers, they are usually in higher doses, and they use them longer.
  • Research shows that women are much more likely to form faster addictions to prescription opiates.

Do these opioid statistics shock or surprise you? It's clear that opioid use in the United States has spiraled out of control. People are using these medications and drugs without realizing the dangers of doing so, in many cases.

Even in instances when opioids are being abused recreationally, most people assume the drugs are safe. Just because they are medically prescribed, that does not make them safe, by any means. If anything, their perceived safety only makes them more dangerous.

Opioid vs. Opiate: What's the Difference?

People frequently use the term opioid vs. opiate, and they use these words interchangeably. This true for everyone from doctors to substance abuse professionals. While it's OK to use both terms, technically, there are some differences between them.

Opiate drugs come from the alkaloids that occur naturally in the opium poppy plant. These drugs are known for their pain relieving capabilities. Opiate drugs include heroin, morphine, opium and codeine.

Opioids are similar to opiate drugs. However, they are synthesized to produce opiate-like effects when they're used. When you're comparing opioid vs. opiate, these drugs both produce pain relieving effects. Opioid drugs include Oxycodone, Fentanyl and Methadone.

Technically, not all opioids are opiates. However, all opiates are opioids. Still, the two terms are often used to mean the same thing. This is generally accepted in the medical community.

Opioid vs. Narcotic: Are They the Same?

When it comes to using the word opioid vs. narcotic, the word narcotic has generally fallen by the wayside. This is because it has a negative association with illegal drug activity. Doctors and pharmacists used to use it all the time. Today, opioid or opiate are much more accepted.

A narcotic is defined as a drug that that produces narcosis, or insensibility or stupor.

This pertains to opioid drugs, of course. Some definitions describe narcotics as being any drug that is derived from opium.

In general, they are the same. However, you are less likely to hear the term narcotic than you are to hear the word opioid.

Understanding Opioid Abuse

Opioid abuse is something that occurs far too often. However, opioid abuse should not be confused with opioid addiction. They are very different situations.

Opioid abuse refers to the misuse of any opioid or opiate drug. When someone is abusing opioids, that individual does not have an addiction. Even so, that's not to say that an addiction will not form eventually.

The difference between abuse and addiction is that with abuse, there is no need to use the drug. The individual may enjoy the feelings he or she experiences, but using opioids doesn't feel necessary.

Someone may be participating in opioid abuse when that individual:

  • Uses an opioid drug without a prescription
  • Uses an opiate like heroin or opium for recreational purposes, and not due to cravings
  • Mixes any type of opioid drug with alcohol or another drug
  • Takes too much of an opiate drug at one time
  • Crushes pills and snorts them, or mixes the powder with water to be injected

All of these are excellent examples of opioid abuse. Please note that in these cases, there are no negative physical or mental consequences when the drug is stopped.

Opiate abuse does not always lead to opioid addiction. However, that's not to say that it can't or won't. The only way to prevent an opioid addiction is to stop the use of opioids altogether.

If opioids are not stopped, and the misuse of the drugs is allowed to continue, addiction is to be expected. There is no set amount of time that it may take to form an opioid addiction. Addictions are formed in various amounts of time, and this is very unique to each person. Some people may for addictions to opiate drugs within weeks, while others may take months or even years.

Someone who is abusing opioid drugs should consider seeking professional help. However, going to a drug rehab or an IOP program probably isn't necessary at that point.

Most opioid abusers are abusing these drugs for different reasons. For one person, it may be because of having chronic pain. For another person, the abuse may be occurring because of a mental health condition.

Regardless of the reason, it's important to treat that underlying cause. This can be done in many ways. A counselor, or even a chronic pain specialist may be able help the individual avoid becoming an opiate addict.

Understanding Opioid Addiction

Again, an opioid addiction should not be confused with opioid abuse. When someone is addicted to opioid or opiate drugs, that person feels a need to use them. He or she may rely on them to even function or get through their day.

Also, when stopping the use of opioid drugs, opioid withdrawal symptoms are common among addicts. They will experience a wide variety of symptoms that can often draw them back to using once again.

Once someone is addicted to opioids, stopping their use abruptly is dangerous. Doing so can have devastating consequences, which we'll cover in just a moment.

Two other terms that are also often used interchangeably are dependence and addiction. Having an opioid dependence is not the same as being addicted to opioid drugs.

When someone has opioid dependence, it can sometimes look like addiction. However, chronic and repeated use of the drug is absent from the equation. For example, let's say a cancer patient is being treated for pain with morphine. This is completely under the supervision of a doctor. When the morphine is stopped, opioid withdrawal symptoms may result. There has been no compulsive use of the drug, which is why the person is considered morphine dependent, and not addicted.

Therefore, someone with an opiate addiction is also opiate dependent. However, the reverse is not true.

Unfortunately, some people do become addicted to opiate drugs accidentally. This can occur when they simply take their medication too long. While there are those who use opioid drugs recreationally, many suffer from accidental addictions.

If you have been taking your opioid medications for a long time, you may wonder if you have an addiction. You might if you have experienced:

  • A strong desire to use your opioid drugs
  • The inability to control your use of opioids
  • The inability to reduce how much or how often you use opiates
  • Problems taking care of your personal or work-related responsibilities
  • Financial problems because of money spent on opiates
  • Spending a lot of time working to obtain opioid drugs
  • Feeling as though you need to increase your dosage because your current dosage isn't working

Have you experienced any of the above? These are all clear signs of an opioid addiction. If even one of these applies to you, you may already be addicted.

For someone who is addicted to heroin or opium, the addiction signs are a little more pronounced. Many of the above signs of opioid addiction will still apply to someone addicted to illegal opioids. However, there may also be some additions. These can include:

  • The presence of drug paraphernalia around the house
  • Significant changes in behavior
  • Track marks on the body from injecting these opioid drugs
  • Legal problems related to opiate drug use
  • Chronic lying and secretive behaviors
  • Bouts of aggressive behaviors

With all types of opioid drugs, depression may be a sign of addiction as well. The severity of these signs tends to become worse until recovery is sought.

Opioid Receptors and How Opioid Drugs Work in the Brain

The opioid system in the brain is what controls pain, reward and addictive behaviors. Opioid drugs work by affecting three different opioid receptors. These receptors are called me, delta and kappa.

When the opioid receptors in the brain are activated, they give off a response. This response is either lessened pain, a reward or promoting addiction, or a combination of these.

As opioid receptors continue to be stimulated, the potential for addiction increases. This is how accepted opioid use progresses into opioid abuse and then eventually, addiction.

An opiate addiction can occur for a number of reasons. More often than not, it is started because of prescription pain medications. It is possible for someone to start using heroin or opium without using prescription pain pills first. However, most instances involve the use of painkillers first.

As you use prescribed pain killers, you grow accustomed to having these opioid drugs in your body. Eventually, you form an addiction to them. This means you feel as though you have to have them. Without them, you might not feel like yourself. You might find it difficult to think or concentrate.

In many cases, when someone has an addiction to prescribed painkillers, that addiction is progressive. This is because it's not always easy to obtain these opiate drugs. Doctors may stop prescribing them because of the fear of addiction.

What usually happens in these cases is that people will start doctor shopping. They'll visit multiple doctors to get their opiate drugs. In some cases, this might work for a short time. However, there have been measures put into place to catch doctor shoppers.

As a result, people with prescription pain killer addictions will turn to drugs like opium or heroin. This is the progression of opiate addiction, and it's much more common than people think.

An opioid addiction can happen to anyone; but it is much more likely to happen to someone with chronic pain. Even so, there are certain risk factors that make one individual more likely to become addicted to opioids than others.

You might be at risk for an opioid addiction if you:

  • Have a personal history of addiction
  • Have a family history of addiction
  • Spend time with people who also use opioids or opiates
  • Live in an environment where the use of opioids is accepted
  • Have a mental health condition or co-occurring disorder
Opiate Addict

The Effects of Opiates on the Body

Taking opiate drugs for a long time has more of an effect than just causing addiction. These drugs are dangerous when they are misused. They can have a profound effect on the body in both the short and long-term.

Most of the short-term effects of opioids are usually why people use these drugs to begin with. In the short-term, opioids might not always be dangerous. However, if they are used in higher dosages, they certainly can be.

The short-term effects of opioid drugs include:

  • Feelings and sensations of euphoria
  • Experiencing pain relief
  • Feelings of drowsiness
  • Becoming sedated
  • Constipation or other digestive issues

The longer opioid drugs are used, the more serious their effects become. Long-term use of opioids can have a devastating impact on the individual; both physically and mentally.

Some of the long-term effects of painkillers and opioids include:

  • Bouts of nausea and vomiting
  • Chronic constipation
  • Abdominal bloating
  • The risk of liver damage
  • Significant brain damage

Injecting opiates is likely to have additional consequences. It is possible to develop serious heart problems, as well as pulmonary complications. Gangrene can form at injection sites, which can eventually become life threatening. Also using unsterile needles can lead to HIV or hepatitis infections.

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Stopping the Use of Prescribed Painkillers or Other Opioids on Your Own

Prescribed pain killers or other opioids should never be stopped abruptly. They should also never be stopped without medical supervision.

Stopping the use of opiate drugs cold turkey can cause so many problems. Opioid withdrawal is very difficult to get through without help and support. There are additional risks to stopping these drugs on your own as well.

It's much safer to stop using opioids in a medical setting. With prescription painkillers, it may be necessary to taper the dosage down first. Other protective measures may need to be taken with heroin or opium.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms You May Experience

Opioid withdrawal symptoms are extremely uncomfortable. They tend to escalate in their severity. Eventually, many people who quit using opiates on their own will return to using again because of them. This is what is known as going through an opioid relapse.

Some opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Feelings of agitation
  • Experiencing anxiety
  • Having muscle aches in the body
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Profuse sweating
  • Having a runny nose
  • Stomach cramps
  • Bouts of diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting

An opioid overdose can occur for a few different reasons. Sometimes people increase how much of their opiate medication they're taking. Or, they may use too much heroin or opium at one time.

Typically, many opioid overdoses occur following a relapse after a period of abstinence. Once you stop taking opioid drugs, your body's tolerance level begins to change. This happens right away. Most people are not aware of how quickly this takes place.

When tolerance levels drop, and a relapse occurs, an overdose is highly likely. This is because people will usually go back to using the same amount of opioids as they were previously.

Many drug overdoses are due to strong pain killers or heroin. When someone has overdosed, there are certain symptoms that make the overdose evident. These symptoms include:

  • Having pupils that are as small as a pinpoint
  • Breathing that has slowed down considerably, or stopped altogether
  • Becoming unconscious or unresponsive
  • Becoming physically limp
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Paleness in the face
  • Having a purple or bluish tint to the lips and fingernails
  • Excessive vomiting

It is possible to reverse a painkiller overdose. It's also possible to reverse it if someone overdoses on heroin or opium. However, quick action must be taken.

As soon as an overdose is expected, medical attention must be obtained. The fastest way of doing this is usually to call 911, unless there is an emergency room nearby.

The drug Naloxone can be administered, and it is effective at reversing the effects of an overdose. However, if too much time passes, Naloxone may not be effective at all.

In the United States, there were 20,101 overdose deaths because of prescription painkillers in 2015. During that same year, there were close to 13,000 overdose deaths due to heroin.

So many of these deaths could have been prevented. Chances are pretty good that many of them occurred because these individuals relapsed back into opioid use.

Do You Have a Loved One Who is Addicted to Opiates?

If you have a loved one who is addicted to opioid drugs, it's so important for you to act quickly. These drugs are so dangerous. However, it's possible that talking with your family member won't work. This is something you should be prepared for. Fortunately, there is something else you may want to consider.

An Addiction Intervention Can Lead to Recovery from Opioid Addiction

An addiction intervention is often very effective at getting people into treatment. If you have a loved one addicted to opiate drugs, this is highly recommended.

An intervention may be the only way your family member will ever agree to get help. Setting one up is easy, and immediate admission into drug rehab can be arranged for afterwards.

How is an Addiction to Opiates Treated?

An opiate or opioid addiction is treated at drug rehab centers. Usually, the individual goes through drug detox first. This allows them to get through the withdrawal phase safely. In the event of any medical complications, drug detoxification allows for constant monitoring. Medical intervention is readily available.

After drug detox, drug rehab for opioid drugs is highly recommended. This will address the mental part of the addiction, including treating any co-occurring disorders.

Get the Help You Need to Recover from Your Opioid Addiction Today

There's no need to put off getting the help you need for your opioid addiction. You don't have to continue in this addiction for the rest of your life. However, in order to properly recover, professional help is needed.

Our IOP program may provide you with just the support you need for your recovery. An opioid addiction is dangerous, but help is available for you.

Talk to a Rehab Specialist

Our admissions coordinators are here to help you get started with treatment the right way. They'll verify your health insurance, help set up travel arrangements, and make sure your transition into treatment is smooth and hassle-free.

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