Everything You Need To Know About The Opioid Epidemic

01/22/20: Arizona Opioid Epidemic

The United States is currently dealing with the worst drug crises we’ve ever seen, and it’s in a big part due to a class of drugs called opioids. These drugs are highly addictive and extremely widespread. Opioids are prescribed at a rate of 58.7 prescriptions per 100 people, adding up to more than 191 million opioid prescriptions in 2017. In 16 percent of U.S. counties, enough opioid prescriptions were dispensed for every single person to have one (CDC). Fortunately, there has been a decline in the rate of prescriptions since the peak of the crisis in 2011, but despite that, it still persists. Why has this become such a huge problem, and how is it that people become so easily addicted to this form of drug? In this article, we will discuss the reasons that opioids are so dangerous and how addiction takes hold in the brain, among other things. What Are Opioids? The term “opioids” encompasses a wide range of types of drugs, from illegal heroin to perfectly legal prescription painkillers like OxyContin. But, they all have one thing in common: they work by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain. Some examples of legal, FDA-approved opioids are oxycodone (found in OxyContin), hydrocodone (found in Vicodin), codeine, and morphine. There are also illicit forms of the drug, such as heroin and fentanyl (a synthetic opioid). Some opioids, like morphine and codeine, occur naturally in opium. Opium is a gummy substance that can be harvested from the seed pod of the opium poppy, native to southern Asia. Others, such as heroin, are made by mixing a chemical with morphine. Most opioids these days are manufactured synthetically from chemicals. Prescription painkillers containing opioids can come in a variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, syrups, solutions, suppositories, etc. Opium comes in dark brown chunks or powder, and can be ingested orally or smoked. Heroin can typically be found in a white or brownish powder. Opioid Statistics Here are some sobering statistics, sourced from the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
  • Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. (x)
  • Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder. (x)
  • An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin. (x) (x) (x)
  • About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. (x)
  • Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states. (x)
  • The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017. (x)
  • Opioid overdoses in large cities increase by 54 percent in 16 states. (x)
Overdoses In 2017, more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses, making it a leading cause of injury-related death in the United States. Of those deaths, almost 68% involved a prescription or illicit opioid (CDC). How is it that so many people die from overdoses? It is mostly a matter of tolerance. As we mentioned earlier, opioid abuse happens when a person keeps taking more and more of the substance in order to continue experiencing the “high” it offers. Most overdoses occur after a person has attempted to get clean, or hasn’t had access to the drug in a while. This is because their brain will start repairing itself back to normal functioning. Once this happens, the dose that the person had grown a tolerance for will become dangerous, as the brain has begun to reset itself. A lot of opioid-addicted people misjudge the amount they need to get high again and end up taking too much. Their body goes into shock, as it is not equipped to handle that high of a dose anymore, and this may result in death. How Do Opioids Work? Opioids primarily affect the central nervous system by altering the user’s physical and emotional response to pain. Neurons are covered in proteins called “opioid receptors”, which slow down the neurons’ ability to send pain signals to the brain. When your body is injured, your brain releases natural painkillers called endorphins which activate these opioid receptors. The chemicals within opioids are almost identical to our natural endorphins, and act in the same way, unlocking the opioid pain receptors to slow pain signals. At the same time, however, this process affects the area of the brain called the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) which is full of neurons that produce dopamine. When dopamine is released, it gives the person a feeling of pleasure. Under normal circumstances, inhibitory neurons prevent too much dopamine from being created, and only releases the chemical when something good happens. These neurons are also covered in opioid receptors, so when an individual ingests opioids, this area is affected as well. In this case, the inhibitory neurons release the “breaks”, which causes the brain to flood with dopamine in response. How Do People Become Addicted To Opioids? Opioids, even when taken in the recommended dose, can cause feelings of extreme relaxation and euphoria because of the release of endorphins in the brain. Feelings of pain are not only decreased, but they are also replaced by pleasurable sensations. On top of this, opioids actually cause a shift in the chemistry and activity of your brain, which is the most dangerous part. The longer a person uses opioids, over time the brain will attempt to balance itself back out again after it realizes that there is an overflow of endorphins and dopamine being produced in response to the opioid. To do this, the inhibitory neurons begin working overtime to slow the production of dopamine. This is called building a tolerance, and most people respond by increasing their dose of the opioid, which can be extremely dangerous. Symptoms Of Opioid Abuse Here are some signs that you or a loved one may have an opioid addiction on your hands:
  • Inability to control or stop opioid use
  • Uncontrollable cravings
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent flu-like symptoms
  • Decreased libido
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Changes in activity
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Stealing from family, friends, businesses, etc
  • Financial problems
What Can Be Done?  Opioid addiction is a complex and layered disease, and requires holistic, individualized treatment. But the good news is, you CAN overcome it! Contact us for more information on how you can begin the first day of the rest of your healthy, sober life.

If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, contact 602-737-1619 or email [email protected] to get the help you need. Our acclaimed recovery environment merges upscale, luxury accommodations with affordability, clinical expertise and an unwavering commitment to patient care and aftercare.

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