The news is filled with articles and stories about the opioid crisis. The number of deaths from opioid overdoses are staggering in many countries and the abuse of opioids is at an all-time high.
Typically, when people think of opioid use problems or addictions, they think of illicit, or “street” opioids, such as fentanyl and heroin. However, abuse of opioids often is the result of improper use of prescribed drugs such as oxycodone, codeine, morphine and fentanyl patches. It is also common to see abuse of opioid drugs used by people other than who they were originally prescribed for.
Some other well-known prescription drugs which are opioids include:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
Opioids are a very powerful class of drug, usually prescribed to treat pain. When abused, the user gets a euphoric feeling of intense pleasure. Unfortunately abuse can lead to fatal overdoses. This class of drug is often sought out by addicts because of the ready availability and the intense euphoria produced. These intense pleasurable effects are one of the reasons they carry such a high risk for addiction.
Heroin is a common opioid that can be snorted, smoked, or injected. When injected, a number of risk factors are present which are not present when used in other ways. Risks when injecting include spreading HIV or hepatitis B or C when needles are shared, skin infections, collapsed veins and bacterial infections. It is common for users to abuse prescription medication by crushing pills and then snorting or injecting it.
Fentanyl is an opioid that is most often prescribed as a skin patch. It is 100 times more powerful than morphine and used to treat pain. In some countries, street fentanyl is being sold as “street oxys” and a powder is used to produce a pill which looks like prescription oxycodone. High risks of using these pills exist because the amount of fentanyl contained in each pill can vary greatly and a user does not know how much they are actually taking. In some cases, fentanyl is being mixed with heroin, cocaine or marijuana so users may not be aware they are taking it.
Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction
Opioid addiction is defined by signs, symptoms and behaviors that indicate a person is both physically and psychologically dependent on the substance. It should be noted that many of the signs and symptoms are also indicative of addiction in general. They include:
- using for longer periods or using more than planned at the outset
- trying unsuccessfully to quit or unsuccessful attempts to cut down
- spending large amounts of time and effort getting, using and recovering from opioids
- not fulfilling responsibilities at work, school or home
- continuing to use opioids despite the negative social, family, emotional and physical consequences
- no longer participating activities that were once enjoyable
- dangerous use
- taking increasingly more to get the same effect (tolerance, a sign of physical dependence)
- illness when use suddenly stops (withdrawal, a sign of physical dependence)
- crushing, snorting, smoking or injecting opioids
- finishing prescriptions prior to prescribed time period
- obtaining opioids from multiple sources such as multiple doctors, friends and family or on the street
- showing signs of opioid abuse (nodding off, pinpoint pupils)
- Intense cravings
Withdrawal and Relapse
Opioid withdrawal can be very difficult. In fact, many who have tried, have said that they keep using, not so much for the high as to avoid the painful withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle aches, pain, spasms and bone pain
- Irregular heart rate
- Runny nose
- Flu-like symptoms
- Involuntary leg movement
- Fear and paranoia
At the height of withdrawal, symptoms usually include, tremors, muscle cramping, joint and deep bone pain and intense anxiety.
Later, more serious consequences can occur such as depression, anxiety and cravings which can last for months or years.
A desire to escape the withdrawal symptoms and state of unease and general dissatisfaction can leave addicts at high risk for relapse and even worse, at high risk of accidental overdose and death.
While some people have managed to detox on their own, due to the extreme discomfort of the symptoms, self-detox is difficult and detoxification at a professional facility is recommended.
Treatment protocols are similar to any addiction and include Outpatient Programs, Residential Treatment facilities and can be supported by 12 Step groups.
Contact us to book a free consultation to help you determine which option is best for you.