The Opioid Addiction Crisis

Opioid addiction refers to the prolonged use of opioid substances that induce significant physical and mental harm to the person abusing them. Opioid addiction can cause significant harm to individuals, families, and communities. Regular use of opioids can also lead to physical dependence, meaning that the body relies on the drug to function normally. Withdrawal symptoms often include muscle aches, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, and insomnia, which can occur when use is decreased or discontinued.

In addition to the physical effects of opioids, addiction can lead to social, legal, and financial consequences, all of which can be devastating. Individuals addicted to opioids may also struggle with keeping employment and maintaining healthy relationships with their loved ones.

The National Center for Health Statistics reported that in 2020, almost 69,000 people were killed from overdoses that involved opioids.

Opioid addiction has become a major worldwide health crisis. To adequately address the opioid epidemic, a complex plan is needed. This plan should include education and insight about the dangers of opioid use, enhanced access to addiction treatment services and harm reduction programs, and the development of a pain management approach that does not involve opioids.

Proper education about opioids will not only reduce the number of people who become addicted but will save countless lives from overdoses.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are derived from opium, which is a chemical that occurs naturally in poppy seeds and plants. These drugs are used clinically for treating mild to severe pain. Due to their intensely calming effects, opioids have tremendously high rates of abuse which, in many cases, can lead to addiction.

Prescription Opioid Abuse

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Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD, explains why prescription Opioids are so addictive, and the role they play in the current Opioid epidemic.

Opioid Overdose

In recent years, the number of Americans who have lost their lives to opioids has skyrocketed. Since 1999, more than 564,000 people have died from opioids in the US, of which nearly 40% (229,000) have occurred in the last three years. Of the more than half a million opioid-related deaths, an increasing amount, nearly 70% in 2022, involved synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl.

In one survey, 94% of respondents said they chose to use heroin over prescription painkillers because it was cheaper and easier to get.

An opioid overdose can have severe effects on the body and, unfortunately, in many cases is fatal. Opioids suppress the central nervous system, including the respiratory system, which can lead to respiratory depression or failure when taken in high doses. This means that breathing may decelerate or stop altogether, leading to brain damage or death without prompt medical attention.

An individual overdosing on opioids may display the following symptoms:

  • Slow, shallow, or no breathing
  • Blue or purple skin, lips, or fingernails
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Unresponsiveness or unconsciousness
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Vomiting or gurgling noises
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Limp body

Treatment For Opioid Addiction

There are many treatment options to choose from, but research suggests the most effective form of treatment for opioid addiction is inpatient detox followed by inpatient rehab. Inpatient rehab centers have specialized programs for individuals suffering from this type of substance use disorder. These programs help patients dig deep within themselves to uncover the root cause of their drug use. Knowing what caused patients to use opioids in the first place will help prevent future triggers while in recovery.

Featured Centers Offering Opioid Addiction Treatment

Medical Detox

Treatment for an addiction to opioids will typically first require medical detoxification to address severe physical withdrawal symptoms. Medical detoxification involves 24-hour observation by medical professionals. The addicted individual is medicated to relieve the painful symptoms induced by opioid withdrawal. The time frame of opioid withdrawal depends on if the abused opioid is a short-acting or long-acting opioid.

According to the National Library of Medicine, time frames regarding opioid withdrawal are as follows:

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline
Short-acting Opioids (e.g., Heroin) Onset of opioid withdrawal symptoms 8-24 hours after last use; duration 4-10 days.
Long-acting Opioids (e.g., Methadone) Onset of opioid withdrawal symptoms 12-48 hours after last use; duration 10-20 days.

To recap, withdrawal from opioids can range from 4-20 days. Withdrawal symptoms between these time frames may vary and can produce a wide range of symptoms, including the following:

  • Aggression
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Muscular aches and pains
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Drug cravings
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach problems
  • Fatigue

Residential Treatment Programs

These programs are set to provide 24-hour structured care. People will reside in a facility when attending these programs. Residential treatment programs typically offer a combination of behavioral therapies, medications, support groups, and other alternative activities. They were created to foster a safe and supportive environment where recovery can be the person’s primary focus.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medications can aid in managing withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and prevent relapse. The most common medications for opioid addiction treatment include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.

Behavioral Therapies

Examples of standard behavioral therapies typically used for opioid addiction treatment include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing. These forms of behavioral therapies can assist individuals in identifying and changing unhealthy patterns of thoughts and behaviors that impact addiction.

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Outpatient Treatment Programs

Outpatient programs are most beneficial for opioid addiction when the person has first attended a higher level of care, such as medical detox or residential treatment. Individuals reside at home while attending these programs. These programs can last several months and typically consist of group and individual sessions.

Support Groups

Narcotics Anonymous (NA), a 12-step support group, provides a sense of community and support for individuals in recovery from opioids and other narcotics. These groups are typically peer-led by individuals with first-hand addiction and recovery experience.

Find Support For Opioid Addiction Today

Recovery from opioid addiction can be a long process, and an individual will most benefit from ongoing support and treatment. Working with a mental health and medical professional team is also important to determine the best treatment plan for the individual’s needs. To learn more about treatment for opioid addiction, contact a treatment provider.