Opioids are sometimes referred to as narcotics. And although they do relieve pain, they do not fall into the same category as over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin and Tylenol. Making them highly susceptible to abuse and addiction-related disorders.
To enumerate, opioid use disorder is a medical condition defined by not being able to abstain from using opioids. As well as the behaviors centered around opioid use that interferes with daily life. Being physically dependent on an opioid can occur when someone has an opioid use disorder.
The Opioid disorder is characterized by withdrawal symptoms such as cravings and sweating. However, people can misuse opioids and not have any physical dependence. And when a person has physical dependence, in particular, it can be very hard to stop taking them.
After all, that dependence can hugely interfere with various daily routines. Including work-related issues, personal relationships, or financial difficulties. In short, “mind your meds” to keep yourself and your community safe. So, What are Opioids? And Why such sudden concerns recently?
What are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant and that works in the brain to produce a variety of side effects. Including the relief of pain in relation to many of its source drugs. They can either be prescription medications often referred to as painkillers or the so-called street drugs, such as Heroin.
Many are times when Opioid prescription is used to block pain signals between the brain and the body. Where typically, they’re prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. In addition to controlling pain, they can make some people feel relaxed, happy, or “high,” and thus leading to addiction.
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In simple terms, these drugs are highly addictive with life-threatening side effects. Such side effects can include; slowed breathing, constipation, nausea, confusion, and drowsiness. The most commonly used Opioids are:
- prescription opioids, such as OxyContin and Vicodin
- fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50–100 times more potent than morphine
- heroin, an illegal drug
So, whenever any of these drugs are prescribed to you or a family member for any reason, be aware that they are Opioids. And, therefore, they should be taken as directed and only when needed.
Can Opioids be taken responsibly?
From the beginning of this post, I have been advocating how these silent painkillers can turn into monsters. As a precaution, it is wise if you take them (if need be) with a bit of responsibility. Simply, because they’re a form of effective painkiller that should be used appropriately.
But, to do so, the patient needs to take a level of caution for their medical care. And if you are going to have a medical procedure, you should first have a conversation with your physician. Particularly about the type of pain control methods to be used in advance.
Ask questions like:
- First, “You are prescribing me this many tablets. Do I really need these?”
- Secondly, “What is your strategy for pain control?”
- Lastly, “What options do I have other than an Opioid to help control my pain?”
It’s important to realize, it takes only a couple of weeks to become physically dependent on an opioid, but that varies by individual. If you take an opioid for a day or two, it should not be a problem and, generally, you will not become addicted.
However, some studies show even the first dose of an opioid can have physiological effects. And for some time in Kenya, we believed patients weren’t at that great risk of addiction. But, one thing for sure, no one knows the percentage of those who are at risk.
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So far, what we do know now can be pointed out through an annual survey of drug use in the U.S. Whereby, people were asked if they had used heroin before.
In reality, researchers found that 50% of those who had also had a longtime history of Opioid use heroin. And out of that research, 50% of those went on to have problematic heroin use. Also, we know that the duration of opioid use can lead to physical dependence.
Basically, if you’re taking an opioid regularly for a period of time there’s a chance that you’ll become physically dependent. And that’s a risk factor for continued opioid use.
What are the Risks of Opioids use?
Regular use of these prescribed medications can increase your tolerance and dependence — requiring higher and more frequent doses. In some cases, longer-term use can lead to addiction (or what doctors will call “opioid use disorder”).
In addition, opioids can restrict your ability to breathe when taken at a higher dose. And when misused, can lead to a fatal overdose. The risk of respiratory depression (slowing or even stopping your breathing), increases if you have never taken an opioid before. Or if you are taking other medications/drugs that interact with the opioid.
Bearing in mind, if you have a personal or family history of substance abuse, you may be at increased risk too of becoming dependent on drugs. Opioids, which can interact with diseases, too, should only be used if needed for pain, including if alternatives for pain control are not effective.
‘Addicted: America’s Opioid Crisis | Full Documentary.’
As can be seen, from the documentary above, you should try and tell your health care provider the truth about your drug dependency.
Also, be sure to ask about alternative treatments. If you and your health care provider agree that an opioid prescription is the best option for managing your pain, follow all treatment instructions. With that in mind, be sure also to review your current medications.
And at any time, try and disclose any past or present drug use with your doctor. Particularly, when discussing whether an opioid prescription is right for you.
What are the Signs of Opioid addiction?
When we talk about Opioid Addiction or Opioid Use Disorder (in short OUD), often people refer to a syndrome of symptoms. And there’s a feature syndrome of problematic use of the Opioid.
Consider features such as when the person using the opioid is giving up other things in their life. And then the use of the drug starts to impact them (their health, their relationships). They crave the drug, and the use of it starts to impact their whole life. Their life becomes organized around the use.
In addition, with opioids (and other drugs as well, such as alcohol) there is something else — physical dependence. A physiological adaptation that occurs when using a substance. And in most cases, when the person stops taking the drug, they experience withdrawal.
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Let’s consider Caffeine, for example — if you stop consuming it, you can develop a withdrawal headache and flu-like symptoms. It is important to understand that you can be physically dependent on a substance but you don’t necessarily have problematic use.
Another important point, a cancer patient with chronic pain may be physically dependent but not addicted. Fortunately, Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) may be diagnosed by a doctor. So, How does a doctor diagnose Opioid disorders? Generally speaking, diagnosing OUD requires a thorough evaluation.
This may include obtaining the results of urine drug testing. And then following into prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) reports, when OUD is suspected. Someone struggling with opioid use disorder may not display symptoms right away. However, over time, there may be some signs that they need help.
Notable signs where help is needed;
- The inability to control opioid use
- Uncontrollable cravings and Drowsiness
- Changes in sleep habits
- Weight loss
- Frequent flu-like symptoms
- Decreased libido
- Lack of hygiene
- Changes in exercise habits
- Isolation from family or friends
- Stealing from family, friends, or businesses
- New financial difficulties
Learning Module: Assessing and Addressing Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)
Treatment for opioid use disorder is available from medical professionals. Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone paired with support programs can help people recover.
It’s also important to remember that OUD exists on a continuum of severity. And as a result, a scale for assigning severity exists. Based upon the number of criteria that have been met (like mild, moderate, severe, etc). Although this severity distinction has treatment implications too.
Which is the Common type of Prescription Opioids?
Eventually, Opioid addiction has dominated news headlines and flooded the treatment industry in the last few years. The problem is so severe that approximately 130 people die each day from an opioid-related overdose.
Though opioids can be prescribed by a doctor to treat pain, their misuse may lead to a dependency or addiction (what is known in medicine as an “opioid use disorder”). Anyone prescribed an opioid should follow their doctor’s orders carefully, making sure to only take the medication as prescribed.
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Many of the opioids on this list can be prescribed by a physician. But, it doesn’t mean that they are safe. In fact, all opioids are highly addictive when abused. However, not all opioids are the same.
As an example, according to study research by the hopkinsmedicine, one of the most commonly prescribed Opioids forms is Fentanyl. With Heroin as well as Hydromorphone (Dilaudid), Oxymorphone (Opana), and Methadone following the list.
You can see a complete list of Opioids in this article from the strongest to the weakest. As well as their chemical components, dosage, effects, and other notable features.
Why some people are more susceptible to addiction
In general, all medical conditions typically have a core defining feature. Opioid addiction is not simply like diseases such as pneumonia. Of course, there’s not a magic bullet that “cures” the person, like an antibiotic can cure pneumonia.
With drug abuse, we can think of the defining feature as the dysregulation of choice that is governed by a variety of things. For instance, those inside of us like physiologic drives, and genetic vulnerabilities. At the same time, those outsides of us can include external cues in our environment, and the availability of the drug.
Think about eating, for example, — there is a physical craving. But, environmental queues can engage our choice to eat, even when we aren’t hungry. Most Opioids are controlled substances that have a high potential for abuse.
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When abused, a person’s tolerance increases and the body requires more and more of the drug. Then, the body becomes physically dependent on the drug to avoid going into opioid withdrawals.
Unfortunately, nobody is quite sure why one person becomes addicted to Opioids and not another. And typically, you’ll agree that Opioids produce pain relief, which is good after surgery. However, for some people opioids create a pleasurable effect.
For example, caffeine is a reinforcing drug — people like the effects. So, in other words, that’s so true for about 80 percent of the adult population in the U.S. But, some people avoid it because it makes them jittery or anxious.
On the other hand, early in the process of opioid use, people may take it because of the pleasurable effect. Although some people actually don’t like the effect of an Opioid and may go on to avoid them. You can read and learn more about Opioid Misuse and Addiction in more detail from this article.
Which is the best treatment for an Opioid addict?
By all means, if you take an Opioid and your pain is gone, you’re very lucky. But, if you find yourself saying, “I feel really good,” it may be a warning sign. In that case, it shows you’re vulnerable to misusing these medications. Over time, that good effect diminishes for people who like how an Opioid works and makes them feel.
As a result, that’s why many people take Opioids. Obviously, because they hope to get that good feeling, and they also don’t want to go through withdrawal. When it comes to treating an overdose or addiction, Methadone is the most commonly used medicine. Not forgetting, it’s also part of Opioids.
What does Methadone do? & How is it used?
For your information, it’s the German doctors who created it during World War II. And when it came to the US., doctors used it to treat people with extreme pain.
That’s why as of today, you might get it as part of a treatment program. May it be a controlled drug for addiction to heroin or narcotic painkillers. Methadone, if well administered, it can also be included together with counseling for treatment. And is always provided in a clinic setting.
Notably, it helps to block the effects of opioids and to reduce cravings. And even though it’s safer than some other narcotics, your doctor should keep a close watch. Keeping in mind, by continually taking Methadone, it can lead to addiction or even abuse too.
What is Buprenorphine? & How does it work?
Another type of medicine that helps fight Opioid cravings is Buprenorphine. Without giving the same high as other opioid drugs. Prescribed by many physicians;
- Administered under the tongue on a daily basis,
- Also delivered as per a once-a-month injection,
- Or even through thin tubes placed under the skin every six months.
Finally, these medicines both activate Opioid receptors in the body that suppress cravings. And thus, are as highly effective and similar in safety and side effects as those typically used for maintenance treatment. They can be used as a taper agent as well.
How does Naltrexone help to treat addiction?
On the contrary, Naltrexone is a medicine that is very different. Since it doesn’t activate the Opioid receptor the way that Buprenorphine and Methadone do. Instead, it blocks the euphoric/sedative effects of opioids.
However, your system must be completely free of all opioids before beginning Naltrexone. It’s taken either as an injection once a month or even as orally prescribed. At times, some patients do relapse. Thus providing doctors with a need to try something different.
Not to mention, patients who are highly motivated and have good social support have a tendency to do better. You can read and learn more in detail about treating Opioid addiction.
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