According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, “The abuse of opioids, a group of drugs that includes heroin and prescription painkillers, has a devastating impact on public health and safety in this country.” Prescription opioids are used to treat intense pain that cannot be relieved through any other means. Unfortunately they are being overprescribed and misused resulting in an opioid addiction epidemic around the world. In 2014 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. It is vital that those addicted to opioids receive opioid addiction treatment.
Opioids work by attaching themselves to opioid receptors. These are present in our brains and other organs in our bodies. When opioids become attached to the receptors they reduce the amount of pain we feel. Our bodies naturally produce certain opioids, such as endorphins. These are known as endogenous opioids. Those produced outside the body are known as exogenous opioids and can be extremely addictive. They can be ingested orally, smoked or taken intravenously. The Drug Enforcement Administration 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 are widely prescribed. According to the 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), 50.5% of people who misused prescription painkillers got them from a friend or relative.
Opioid intoxication can be lethal. Death occurs from respiratory depression. Intoxication includes the following signs:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Respiratory depression
- Dry secretions
- Slurred speech
After repeated use of exogenous opioids, our bodies produce less of them naturally. As a result addicts begin to crave ever greater quantites 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.