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What Is The Opioid Epidemic?


The Opioid Epidemic: The Facts

There has been a significant rise in overdose deaths due to opioids in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than six out of 10 overdose deaths are due to opioids. Furthermore, the number of overdoses due to opioids has quadrupled since 1999. Currently, it is estimated that 91 individuals in the United States die everyday due to opioid abuse. The number of Americans who use prescription opiates has quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, but there has not been a reported change in pain reported by Americans.

The opioid epidemic, which is also known as the opioid crisis, was coined from opioid abuse statistics that have been reported over the past several years. The misuse of non-prescription and prescription opiates is one of the primary causes for substance addiction. Some opioids include painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin. These painkillers are manufactured to mimic the effects of opiates, which include morphine and heroin.

A few causes of drug addiction with opioids is the potency and availability of the drug. Opiate medication has ben used as a medical treatment to manage pain, and there is a high risk of chronic addiction when taking opioids. There has been an assumption that a recreational drug user is the only type of individual who can become addicted to opioids, but the effects on the brain from drugs that contain opioids can take hold on anyone.

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, nearly half of all overdose deaths from opioids involved prescription medications. The epidemic has increased so quickly that in 2015 there were more deaths due to opioid overdoses than car accidents or guns.


Why are Opioids so Addictive?

Opioids are highly addictive and can easily lead to substance abuse because they activate the area in the brain that causes pleasure. Furthermore, opioids trigger certain brain cells to release a chemical known as dopamine, which is one of the primary causes of addictive behavior that is seen in those who take opioids.

Lack of self-control is another symptom of drug abuse in those who take opioids, which means it is difficult to stop using even if the drug no longer produces pleasurable effects. There are some opioids that can produce 100 times the amount of endorphins, which are natural painkillers, than the body would normally. As a result, opioids have a significant impact on the brain and nerve cells. After continued opioid use, the brain will stop producing endorphins, which leads to addictive disorders in the brain.
The symptoms of drug abuse in those who take opioids may include:

  • Sedation
  • Euphoria
  • Respiratory depression
  • Nausea
  • Itching
  • Flushed skin
  • Constipation
  • Small pupils

When an individual abruptly stops taking opioids, withdraw symptoms start almost immediately. Opioid withdraw symptoms can include depression, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts, which is why there is such a high chance of relapse.


How to Treat an Opioid Addiction

Because opioid withdraw can be extremely dangerous, it is crucial for those with an opioid addiction problem to seek professional treatment. Substance abuse facts demonstrate there is a poor success rate in those who attempt to stop without professional treatment, which is less than 25% of those who attempt to stop without help.

Medication-assisted rehabilitation can include suboxone therapy, which helps individuals stay sober by easing withdraw symptoms. The FDA approved buprenorphine, which is known as Suboxone, in 2002 for opioid addiction. Suboxone has proven to be more beneficial for treating opioid addiction than naltrexone and methadone because it suppresses cravings and does not cause euphoria that is seen in other medications used to treat an opioid addiction.

Suboxone therapy has shown a high success rate in some studies, which have been reported to be as high as 60%. Furthermore, suboxone treatment does not require that an individual participate in a federally regulated program such as a methadone treatment center. There is a high risk of methadone addiction because it produces the euphoric effects seen in opioids, but suboxone does not produce euphoria so it has a significantly lower abuse rate and is considered a safer treatment option.

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