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What are opioids, and why are they addictive?

Opioids are drugs that include illegal drugs such as heroin, and synthetic and semi-synthetic pain medication such as fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, morphine, and others.  Opioids are designed to interact with the opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. Opioid pain medication is the second most commonly abused drug within the United States.  Opioids produce euphoria and provide pain relief and are easily abused because of the effects they create. The regular use of opioids leads to dependency and tolerance. These drugs are primarily prescribed to people to treat pain. Opiates are naturally found in the opium poppy plant and produce a variety of effects in the brain.  Most of the drugs are used to block pain signals between the brain and the body and are typically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain.  

Opioids also make you feel relaxed, happy, or high, and other side effects are slowed breathing, constipation, nausea, confusion, and drowsiness.  These drugs can be administered to someone in many different ways, such as pill or liquid by mouth, nasal spray, tablets that dissolve under the tongue, suppository, shot in the vein or muscle, or an implanted pump.  There are also short-acting and long-acting opioids, and short-acting is often a combination of an opioid and another type of pain medication such as acetaminophen. There are many side effects with using opioids, and besides the pain relief and euphoric effects, it will slow your breathing, lower your heart rate, and blood pressure.  Some of the common side effects include constipation, drowsiness, nausea, thought and memory problems, and vomiting.  

The regular or daily use of opioids does cause dependence, and the physical dependence will cause withdrawal symptoms.  The symptoms of opioid withdrawal include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, chills, and muscle spasms.  Dependence on opioids often goes hand in hand with tolerance, which is the need to take higher doses of medications to get the same effect.  However, larger doses of opioids become more dangerous and do increase the risk of overdose. If you become addicted to opioids, you will be unable to stop taking the drug, feel anxious, moody, depressed, and uninterested in things within your life.  Opioid addicts spend all of their money on drugs, lie, hide drugs, steal because of drugs, and neglect work, family, and other responsibilities in life. It is estimated that around 8 and 12% of people who take opioids develop an opioid use disorder.

What are Opioid Treatment Programs?

Opioid Treatment Programs or Medication-Assisted Treatment are services for opioid addicts and other prescription drug users or severe alcoholics that use a combination of medication and behavioral counseling.  From 2003 to 2016, the number of opioid treatment programs in the United States increased by 39%. The number of people accessing medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder also sharply increased. In 2003 there were 1,067 opioid treatment programs, and by 2016, this number rose to 1,482, and the options for medication-assisted treatment also increased.  As the treatment for opioid addiction became more widely available the number of patients receiving buprenorphine sharply increased. Buprenorphine is now provided at more than half of the opioid treatment programs in the nation.  

Opioid treatment programs and medication-assisted treatment was designed specifically for the treatment of opioid addictions.  The programs have helped men and women focus on treatment without being dragged down by overpowering cravings from opioids. These facilities also help people who are addicted to opioids understand the process of what led them to abuse drugs such as pain medication or heroin.  The behavioral counseling and therapy help them develop the skills and confidence needed to hold true to their treatment and recovery goals. Opioid treatment programs are only effective with proper behavioral counseling. However, it is not uncommon for some opiate addicts to believe that all they need is the medication.  The medication used in opioid treatment programs are designed to reduce cravings and will not address the underlying issues connected to the addiction. If an opioid addict does not work through counseling or therapy, they will not maintain his or sobriety for long.  

These treatment programs are located across the United States, and individuals have the opportunity to maximize their treatment experience with counseling and following through with proper aftercare treatment.  The medications include buprenorphine or the brand name Subutex, which was approved by the FDA in 2002 for use within medication-assisted treatment programs. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist-antagonist and is prescribed to individuals at the start of treatment.  Subutex blocks the craving and physical withdrawal symptoms caused by the opioids. Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone and is an FDA approved medication. Suboxone works to alleviate physical withdrawal and decrease cravings. When someone uses opioids while taking suboxone, they experience adverse side effects because of the naloxone.  Naloxone counteracts the effects that opioids have on the brain. Along with the medication both individual and group therapy are provided to each client to address the underlying issues connected to their addiction.

What are the warning signs of opioid abuse and addiction?

Opioids include illegal drugs such as heroin and prescription pain medication such as hydrocodone.  Prescription opioids are used to treat mild to severe pain, and pain medication and heroin are abused for the euphoric effects they create.  The abuse of opioids happens quite quickly, and most people who are prescribed prescription opioids who start to misuse them will become addicted to them.  Many prescription opioid users are also dependent on opioids because of remaining on the drug for longer than required. The continued patterns of opioid misuse quickly lead to addiction, which becomes difficult to overcome without the proper help.  Early intervention is also the best way to prevent people from becoming addicted to opioids. Most people who started abusing opioids either began with a prescription or got the drugs from someone they know, such as family or friends. Early prevention also involves getting rid of unused medication and properly disposing of it.  

When someone does become addicted to opioids, it is good to know how to identify the addiction and what you can do to help them.  There are some early warning signs that family and friends can look for. Some of the more common physical and behavioral warning signs to watch for include needle marks on arms and legs from intravenous drug use.  Opioids users will also have constricted pinpoint pupils and will have trouble staying awake or falling asleep at inappropriate times. The symptoms also include flushed and itchy skin, withdrawing from social activities and rapid mood swings.  Opioids addicts also engage in impulsive actions and decision making, which is often risk-taking behavior. It is also not uncommon to visit multiple doctors to obtain more medication illegally. Once a problem with opioids has been identified, it is essential to find immediate help.  Most opioid drug users are in denial about their problem, and will often need intervention to help understand the importance of treatment.  

Connected with opioid use are many short-term and long-term side effects, and depending on how much of the drug is being used, these side effects are both mild and severe.  The immediate side effects of painkiller use include relaxed state of mind and body, feelings of calmness, increased or false confidence, slowed and shallow breathing, impaired judgment, itchy, flushed skin, hallucination, blurred vision, and weight loss.  Many opioid users remain on these drugs longer than needed, and there are dangerous long-term side effects and problems to look for. The most damaging long-term side effects of opioid abuse are harm to the body’s vital organs. Some of the long-term damage includes vein damage from intravenous use, emotional instability, depression, liver damage, and insomnia.  Recognizing opioid addiction is the best way to know when to intervene and help the addict.  

If you start to notice they are taking more significant amounts of medication than prescribed, consuming a drug that was not prescribed to them, or mixing the medication with another substance such as alcohol, this is a problem, and they need help.  The consequences of opioid abuse result in losing your job, becoming financially unstable, criminal charges, and damaged relationships. Drug rehabilitation is the only successful way to help an opioid addict overcome his or her addiction.

What are the commonly abuse opioid pain medications in the United States?

The opioid epidemic in the United States has affected every state across the nation, and problems stem from legal prescription opioids and illegal drugs such as heroin.  This problem began in the late 1990s and pill-mills slowly took over many states making it easy for anyone to purchase opioids illegally. The overdose deaths and drug-related deaths began to climb, and each year millions of Americans became addicted to opioids.  In 2018 there were over 70,000 drug overdose deaths, with most of these deaths a result of opioids. Many believe the opioid epidemic has been a uniquely American problem because prescription rates are around 40% higher in the United States than anywhere else in the world.  The most commonly prescribed opioids in the United States have been oxycodone and hydrocodone. Since 2009 hydrocodone has been the second most frequently collected opioid for drug evidence by state and federal authorities across the nation.  

The national opioid prescribing rates in the nation have started to taper, yet since 2006 they were on a steady increase in the total number of prescriptions dispensed to Americans.  In 2012 the number peaked at more than 255 million opioid prescriptions with a prescribing rate of 81.3 prescriptions per 100 persons. Between 2012 and 2017, the overall national opioid prescribing rate declined, and in 2017 the rate had fallen to the lowest in more than ten years.  In 2017 the prescribing rate was 58.7 prescriptions per 100 persons, which was a total of more than 191 million total opioid prescriptions. In 2017, however, prescribing rates continue to remain high in many states. For example, in roughly 16% of the nation’s counties, enough opioid prescriptions were dispensed for every person to have one.    

Prescription pain reliever misuse was the second most common form of illicit drug use in the United States, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.  In 2018 around 3.6% of the population was misusing pain relievers, and young adults aged 18 to 25 had the highest rate of misuse. More than half of the people who misused pain relievers in 2018 obtained the pain medication from a friend or relative.  In 2018, an estimated 10.3 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids in the past year. Opioid users included 9.9 million prescription pain medication users and over 800,000 heroin users. Hydrocodone has long-been the most widely abused prescription pain medication.  Hydrocodone is used to treat pain and is prescribed as a cough suppressant. The combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen is the most common type of prescription being abused by addicts and given as a prescription.    

Works Cited

What are the best treatment options for opioid pain medication drug addiction?

Anyone who is taking opioids is at risk of developing an addiction.  These drugs are responsible for a large percentage of drug addiction problems in the United States.  Opioids trigger the release of endorphins, which is within your brain’s reward center and provides the feel-good feeling that becomes addictive.  Most of the pain medication addiction problems in the nation start with a prescription and then progress into further problems. There are steps that someone can take to avoid becoming addicted to opioids.  Pain medication is safest when used for three or fewer days, and most prescribing doctors inform patients only to take the drug as needed. However, there are many Americans who are struggling with chronic pain and rely on pain medication daily.  One way to help prevent addiction in your family and within the community is by safeguarding opioids while you use them and disposing of unused opioids properly.  

If you do become addicted to or dependent on opioid pain medication, there some treatment options to consider.  One standard treatment option most opioids addicts choose is medication-assisted treatment. Opioid treatment programs operate throughout the United States and provide specific treatment to people addicted to pain medication.  The programs use a combination of medication and therapy to help opioid addicts overcome addiction. The standard medication used includes buprenorphine, suboxone, and methadone. Buprenorphine is often used during withdrawal and works to ease withdrawal pain and control cravings for opioids.  During therapy, some addicts are prescribed suboxone to help them manage cravings. Medication-assisted therapy is only effective when done with behavioral counseling or some form of traditional therapy. These are inpatient treatment services, and the patient will stay at the facility during his or her treatment.  

Medical detox programs or hospital inpatient treatment are effective solutions for opioid addiction.  A medically supervised detox program provides around the clock medical supervision. The withdrawal process is managed with medication to help stabilize the addict.  The purpose of medical detox is to help the patient make a smooth transition into a drug treatment program. Opioid withdrawal is challenging to go through, and proper detox is crucial to avoid relapse.  It is not recommended that an opioid addict attempts to detox on their own without any help. Following successful detox counseling and behavioral therapies help addicts work through the underlying issues of the addiction.  Residential drug rehab is the most effective because a patient lives at the center during treatment. Inpatient programs provide better results because everything is offered in-house and a patient can focus on treatment distraction-free.

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