According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the drug epidemic in the United States continues to worsen. More than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses from April 2020 to April 2021. Nearly two-thirds of those deaths (64 percent) were due to using synthetic opioids, in most cases fentanyl.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs that include those naturally derived from the opium poppy plant, as well as synthetic opioids that have the same chemical structure. All opioids bind to the opioid receptors in the central nervous system. When the opioids attach to the receptors, chemical changes occur between and within neurons, leading to pain relief and feelings of pleasure.
The Different Types of Opioids
Sometimes referred to as narcotics, opioids include both illegal and legal drugs.
Heroin and opium are illegal opioids classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule 1 drugs. Drugs with this classification do not have any current medical use and have a high potential for abuse or opioid addiction.
The DEA classifies legal opioids as Schedule II drugs. This classification means they currently have an accepted medical use in the United States. Their medical use may have severe restrictions. Medications with this classification have a high potential for abuse or addiction. Using them has the potential of leading to severe physical or psychological dependence.
According to WebMD, commonly prescribed medications used for pain relief are Oxycodone (OxyContin, Oxaydo), Oxycodone and acetaminophen (Roxicet, Percocet), Hydrocodone (Zohydro ER, Hysingla), Hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin, Norco, Lortab, Lorcet), Meperidine (Demerol), and Codeine.
Several additional prescribed medications with this classification include:
- Oxycodone and naloxone
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)
- Morphine (Kadian, MS Contin, Morphabond)
- Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
- Oliceridine (Olynvik)
- Fentanyl (Actiq, Abstral, Duragesic, Fentora)
Opioids as Prescribed Medications
Doctors often prescribe opioid medications to treat moderate to severe acute or chronic pain. These medications are prescribed to relieve pain after a person has surgery, experiences a traumatic injury, or suffers from a chronic condition such as cancer. If an individual is prescribed this type of medication, it is critical that they carefully follow their doctor’s instructions. Opioid pain relievers are usually safe when taken for a short time and exactly as directed. In addition to pain relief, these medications also produce a pleasurable euphoric feeling. It is this feeling that often causes a person to misuse the drug. They may take it more often than prescribed, in higher doses, in a different method than prescribed, or without a prescription. Their misuse can quickly lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
A substance use disorder, opioid addiction is a chronic brain disease. It develops over time as a person misuses the drug. As they continue to use the drug, they build a tolerance to it and need more to achieve the effect they desire. Dependence soon develops. If the individual stops taking the drug, they feel withdrawal symptoms. As they continue using opioids, addiction occurs. Addiction to opioids makes a person feel as if their body and brain need the drugs to survive. They have a constant intense craving for the drugs. They often consider getting and using opioids the most important thing in their life even though it is causing them harm.
Signs & Symptoms of Opioid Addiction
The signs and symptoms of opioid addiction can be psychological, physical, cognitive, or behavioral. They can vary from person to person.
When a person is addicted to opioids, they cannot control their drug use. They experience uncontrollable cravings. Spending time alone, avoiding friends and family, losing interest in activities once enjoyed, and sleeping at odd hours are often signs of addiction. The individual may also have rapid mood swings. They may miss appointments and have trouble at work or school. Personal, professional, legal, and financial problems are common.
Several additional signs include:
- Talking very fast, being overly energetic, and saying things that do not make sense
- Poor personal hygiene
- Spending time with a different group of friends
- Feeling very tired and sad
- Being agitated, nervous, or cranky
- Increased irritability towards others
Slurred or slowed speech, constricted pupils, headaches, and itchy skin are common symptoms of opioid addiction. Cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation may also occur. The person may experience pains in their muscles and joints. Their breathing may be slow or shallow, their heart rate slowed, and their blood pressure lowered. They may feel depressed, anxious, irritable, angry, and agitated. Loss of interest, difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, and memory impairment may occur. Physical agitation and violence are possible.
Help Is Available
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Help is available. Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone. Call and speak to a caring professional at Anabranch Recovery Center, located in Terre Haute, Indiana. We will answer your questions and help you along your road to recovery.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.