The Opioid Epidemic

opioid epidemic pain management

Opiate addiction is a national drug crisis taking the lives of more than 115 people every day in the United States alone. The current opioid epidemic and misuses such as pain reliever’s prescription, heroin addiction, and human-made opioids are affecting the health of the public and socio-economic well-being. This drug abuse problem is causing the government $78.5 billion annually with expenditures in healthcare, a decrease in productivity, addiction rehabilitation and criminal justice involvement.

What Are Opiates?

Opiates are drugs extracted from the opium plant and are mainly used to treat pain. However, opiates are highly addictive and can impose a high risk of having an opiate addiction to users especially if they are taken for an extended period of time.

Opiates are also called opioids, but the two terms have separate meanings and usages. There was a time that opioids refer to a synthetic substance that is like opium, but today, opioids refer to the whole type of substances derived from opium. Opiates are natural drugs taken from opium poppy plant Papaver somniferum which is also called the “joy plant” by the Sumerians in 3,400 B.C.

Opioids are alkaloid compounds that bind to the opioid receptors in the brain. The primary psychoactive opiates are morphine, codeine, and thebaine. Papaverine, noscapine, and around 24 other alkaloids are also existent in opium but have slight to no effect on the human central nervous system, and therefore not considered to be opiates.

Opioids were used as medicine and as a drug to get highly nearly as long as it was discovered. You can find opiates on society’s drug market whether it be a treatment pharmaceutical (morphine, codeine, methadone, etc.), and illegal street drugs (heroin, opium, etc.).  All of these drugs whether legal or illegal can pose a threat to opiate addiction (opioid addiction). Since there are opioids that are sold and consumed against the law, drug dealers and users found a way to cover them through drug street names. These secret drug codes help avoid police attention. Some of the street names for a range of opiates you should avoid are:

  • H
  • Horse
  • China white
  • Hammer
  • Elephant
  • White

Medical Opiates

Opiate pain medicines are given mainly to treat moderate to severe pain. These pains can be at any part of the body but mostly acute and chronic back, neck, and knee pain brought by underlying causes.

Oftenly than not, opiates are prescribed after a surgery or medical procedure to give the patient pain relief caused by a surgical wound and other painful procedures done to the patient. Commonly given medical opiate drugs include:

Morphine– an opiate variety and a pain medication found naturally in many plants which impacts the central nervous system directly to decrease the feeling of pain.
Meperidine– a class of medications opiate (narcotic) analgesics. Meperidine works by altering the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain.
Codeine– a narcotic pain-reliever and cough suppressant similar to morphine and hydrocodone. It is typically prescribed as a mixture of medication.
Hydrocodone – a semi-synthetic opioid. It’s the most recurrently given opiate prescription on the market, and its brand names include Lortab and Vicodin.
Oxycodone– is a semi-synthetic opioid and a part of the group opioid analgesics. It is a depressant drug which means it slows down the pain messages traveling between the brain and the body. Common brand names are Percocet and Oxycontin.
Fentanyl– is a highly addictive opiate that is created synthetically, so it is identified as a synthetic opioid analgesic. Fentanyl is generally given as a transdermal patch.

Signs and Symptoms of Opiate Addiction

Opioid addiction usually started by misusing opiate prescriptions which affect around 21% to 29% of patients recovering from pain. According to studies, people who are addicted to heroin used opiates first before turning to heroin. Opioid overdose increases significantly in the recent years, and it is something everyone should be aware of.  The following are the physical signs of opiate addiction you want to take note so you can help an opiate victim one day:

  • Noticeable elation/euphoria– feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness for no logical reason
  • Obvious sedation/drowsiness– they appear or feel sleepy and lethargic or half asleep
  • Confused– the person cannot think clearly and is puzzled
  • Constricted pupils
  • Breathing slowly
  • Sporadic dozing off, or loss of consciousness- the person may pass out anytime, anywhere
  • Constipation– when opioids attach to receptors in your gut, it lengthens the amount of time it takes a stool to pass through the gastrointestinal system causing fewer than three bowel movements a week
  • Poor Coordination– the person may get clumsy and prone to accident
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Physical agitation
  • Slurred Speech– abnormal speech in which words are not enunciated clearly or completely but are run together or partially eliminated
  • Sleeping more or less than usual– the person can experience insomnia, narcolepsy and disturbed sleep pattern

Opiate does not only affect a person’s physical attributes but also other aspects of his life like his emotional and mental conditions. Among these signs are the following:

  • Poor Decision Making- a person may make illogical choices into simplest up to major situations
  • Abandoning Responsibilities- they may quit their jobs suddenly or become a passive member of the family not performing his duties
  • Mood Swings- rapid changes of mood; one minute they are laughing at your jokes then suddenly they are crying for no reason
  • Irritability- even the littlest things can make them angry or irritated
  • Depression- feelings of severe despondency and dejection
  • Lowered Motivation- a person with an opiate addiction may find it hard even to leave their beds in the morning and perform simple daily tasks
  • Anxiety Attacks- “abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms: Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate.”


Opioid addiction can also be eminent on the person’s changes in behavior and lifestyle which can be the following:

  • Doctor shopping (using different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions)
  • Extra pill bottles turning up in the trash which indicates a person is consuming more than he is prescribed
  • Social withdrawal/isolation
  • Sudden financial problems due to impulsive and uncontrollable drug buying.

Symptoms of Opiates Overdose

Opioid overdose is taking the lives of many people every day. Watch for these signs of opiates overdose and if you see someone suffering from them, call 9-1-1 immediately:

  • Unresponsive (can’t wake)
  • Slow, erratic (irregular) breathing, or no breathing at all
  • Slow, erratic pulse, or no pulse
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness (passing out)
  • Constricted (small) pupils.


Opioid Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

The road to opiate addiction recovery is a long one, and unfortunately, it begins with the long and painful withdrawal symptoms the patient has to endure. The withdrawal usually has two phases. The first one is the acute withdrawal which quickly begins 12 hours after the last use of opioid.  Symptoms for this become extreme at around three to five days and can last up to a week or a month. The second phase or the post-acute withdrawal can take up to two years which are mostly emotional than the physical ones in the acute stage. Among these symptoms are:

  • Tearing up
  • Muscle aches
  • Agitation
  • Trouble falling and staying asleep
  • Excessive yawning
  • Anxiety
  • Nose running
  • Sweats
  • Racing heart
  • Hypertension
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Goosebumps
  • Stomach cramps
  • Depression
  • Drug cravings

Opiate Addiction Treatment

It was never too late to quit the addiction and start recovering towards a new life. There are a lot of treatment facilities, support group, and medicine specialist that can save an opiate addict from destructing his self:

  • Detox Centers and Withdrawal Treatment– There are medicines available such as methadone, clonidine, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. These drugs serve the same function as opiates, but they are not addictive and will not give the feeling of being high or euphoric. In controlled doses, these medicines are used to help the body cope and relieve the withdrawal symptoms. After detox, the patient will need to continue treatment and proceed to rehab.
  • Inpatient Opioid Rehab– After dealing with the physical effects, the inpatient rehabs will help patients with the psychological treatment. In this facility, the patient will know the cause of the addiction, the ways he can cope with it and the tools to avoid relapse after they recovered. They will also learn lifestyle change such us meal planning, exercise, and mental health maintenance. There are also family counseling programs.
  • Rigorous Outpatient Rehab– Recovering patients need to continue to go to clinic visits and take treatments. They may also have a group and individual therapies, pain management, and mental health check-ups regularly.
  • Aftercare – This is where the battle begins. Finishing the programs is just the beginning. A person can continue treatment through periodic group meetings and visits with a rehab counselor. Ultimately, the love and support from family and friends will transition the person to going back to his healthy life and be part of the society again.

Opiate medicines are meant to help and heal a person in pain. But due to its addicting ingredient and a person’s lack of discipline, it causes more harm than good to the person and causes opiate addiction. There is always hope for opiate addicts; one should simply begin.

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