Prescription opioids are used for treating intense pain that cannot be relieved through any other means. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines opioids as “a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, and many others.” Being chemically related, these drugs interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the human body and brain. Though generally safe when taken for a short period, continued consumption of opioids for a longer duration can lead to severe health conditions.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), “The abuse of opioids, a group of drugs, including heroin and prescription painkillers, has a devastating impact on public health and safety in this country.” The over prescription and misuse of prescription drugs has resulted in an opioid epidemic in the United States. Therefore, it is imperative for those addicted to opioids to receive timely treatment for opioid addiction.
Opioids work by attaching themselves to opioid receptors present in our brains and other organs in our bodies. When opioids attach to these receptors, they reduce the amount of pain we feel. Our bodies naturally produce certain opioids known as endogenous opioids. Endorphins is one such example. Those produced outside the body are known as exogenous opioids and can be extremely addictive. They can be taken orally, smoked or taken intravenously. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies opioids as Schedule I, Schedule II or Schedule III, depending on their medical benefit and addictive properties. In addition to pain relief, opioids can produce feelings of well-being and euphoria.
Opioids commonly include the following drugs:
Symptoms of opioid abuse
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. In the 2013 and 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), it was found that 50.5 percent of people who misused prescription painkillers got them from a friend or relative.
Opioid intoxication can cause death due to respiratory depression. Opioid intoxication usually exhibits the following signs or symptoms:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Respiratory depression
- Dry secretions
- Slurred speech
After repeated use of exogenous opioids, our bodies begin to produce less of them naturally. As a result, people dependent on them begin to crave for an increased quantity of synthetic opioids, leading to intense physical and psychological pain upon withdrawal. Fortunately, the brain’s natural reward systems begin to normalize with proper opioid addiction treatment, and hence, addiction to opioids can be treated with professional guidance.