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Abusing Prescription Opioids

The opioid epidemic is a health crisis that is responsible for killing more than 46 Americans every day. While opioids have an accepted medical use, they are also highly potent substances that are prone to abuse.

Navigation: Prescription Opioid Overview, Prescription Opioid Abuse, Prescription Opioid Abuse and Overdose, Prescription Opioid Abuse Effects, Prescription Opioid Dependence and Addiction, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Although prescription opioids were initially developed for pain relief, they are now at the center of America’s opioid epidemic. In fact, millions of people in the US are suffering from addiction to prescription opioids. In 2016 alone, there were 17,087 overdose deaths related to prescription opioids.

The opioid epidemic is a health crisis that is responsible for killing more than 46 Americans every day.  While opioids have an accepted medical use, they are also highly potent substances that are prone to abuse. Studies show that 40 percent of all opioid-related deaths involve a prescription opioid.

A lot of people are under the impression that these drugs are safer to abuse because they were given to them by their doctor. But this misconception can be deadly.


Prescription Opioid Overview

Opioids are a class of drugs that are derived from the opium poppy plant. Unlike opiates, which are naturally derived from the opium poppy plant, opioids are synthetic and semi-synthetic derivatives. Although chemically similar to opiates, opioids are fully man-made.

The opium poppy plant is typically grown in Asia, Central America, and South America. Synthetic opioids are developed in pharmaceutics laboratories. But there are also increasing amounts of illegally manufactured opioids made by drug trafficking organizations.

In the medical setting, prescription opioids are used as painkillers. These substances have been used to treat pain for hundreds of years. Prescription painkillers can help treat pain ranging from moderate to severe. In some cases, opioids are used to treat diarrhea and coughing.

Examples of prescription opioids include Morphine, Hydromorphone, Fentanyl, Methadone, Buprenorphine, Codeine, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, and Meperidine.

Morphine is a strong opioid that usually comes in pill form, but can also be administered intravenously. Hydromorphone is a stronger form of morphine.

Fentanyl is a surgical anesthetic that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine.

Methadone is used for people struggling with opioid addiction and withdrawal. It can also treat severe, chronic pain. Buprenorphine is an alternative to methadone when it comes to addiction treatment.

Codeine is weaker compared to other opioids, but it still has a high addiction potential. It is prescribed when acetaminophen and ibuprofen don’t work. Hydrocodone is a more powerful form of codeine. It is often mixed with acetaminophen and can help patients with moderate to severe pain.

Oxycodone is a long-acting opioid that is used to treat persistent pain.

Meperidine is similar to morphine in that it is used before surgery or during childbirth to treat moderate to severe pain.


Prescription Opioid Abuse

While opioids can definitely relieve pain and help patients struggling with it, these painkillers can also produce a euphoric high that can get a person addicted. This “high” is what leads to misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers.

The highly addictive nature of opioids, plus the fact that they are commonly prescribed in the medical setting, puts users at risk of developing physical dependence and addiction. The risk of overdose and death is high, so prescription opioid abuse is a serious problem.

Misusing a doctor’s prescription is considered abuse. This includes people who are taking their prescription opioids more often than they are supposed to, and those who are taking larger doses than prescribed.

Taking opioids recreationally with or without a prescription is also classified as abuse. The misuse of prescription painkillers has led to countless overdoses and deaths.

Prescription Opioid Abuse and Overdose

Because all opioids are central nervous system depressants, they can slow down a person’s breathing and brain activity. Not only do these drugs make a person more calm and relaxed, they also give them a feeling of euphoria by activating the brain’s reward center.

However, excessive opioid intake can lead to overdose, which can be fatal. Opioids can slow the user’s breathing, leading to a lack of oxygen. Opioid overdose can be immediately fatal, but it may sometimes take up to several hours.

Overdose rates are highest among those who are 18 to 25 years old. If a loved one suffers from opioid overdose, call 911 immediately. Overdose can be overcome if the person can receive medical assistance right away.

For those who are taking prescription painkillers, it is advised that they follow their doctor’s prescription carefully. Take opioids only if it has been prescribed by your doctor and make sure to always take the right dosage.

If the pain gets worse while taking opioids, call a doctor. Never take prescription painkillers with alcohol, illicit substances, or sleeping pills. These drug combinations are dangerous and may cause fatal overdose. Lastly, make sure to dispose of unused medication properly.

Prescription Opioid Abuse Effects

Opioids move through the bloodstream and bind to active opioid receptors on cells. By attaching to these receptors, opioids can block pain signals. At the same time, the brain releases dopamine, which is known as a “feel good chemical”. This addictive interaction is what causes people to keep taking opioids even when they are no longer supposed to.

Potential side effects of prescription opioid abuse include nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, confusion, constipation, itching, sweating, slowed breathing, low testosterone, and depression.

Anyone taking prescription painkillers is at risk of developing tolerance. This is because the body quickly adapts to the presence of opioids. The person will have to take more of the drug to get the same effect in no time.

Prescription Opioid Dependence and Addiction

The risk of developing dependence increases significantly after 5 normal days of use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dependence is when the body no longer feels “normal” without taking opioids. When a drug dependent person stops taking opioids, they experience withdrawal symptoms.

Addiction is characterized by the inability to quit a drug, even when the user is already experiencing its negative effects. Dependence is considered one part of addiction.

Not everyone who takes prescription opioids will develop an addiction. But according to the CDC, some people are more vulnerable than others. People who are taking high doses of prescription painkillers daily; people who have a mental illness or history of substance abuse; people living in rural areas and having low income; and people obtaining overlapping prescriptions from multiple sources are at risk of developing addiction.

If someone in the family is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it is important to seek help. A combination of medical detox and behavioral therapy can go a long way in the fight against substance abuse. But because every individual is affected by addiction differently, a comprehensive program tailored to their specific needs is necessary. Look for a nearby addiction treatment facility today and find out how drug treatment programs work.


Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



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