Substance Abuse
Substance Abuse: Opiates

The Opioid Crisis

Everyday, millions of Americans continue to suffer the effects of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and the opioid crisis. Numbers of deaths continue to rise, with a survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showing that over 70,000 people lost their lives in 2019 as a result of overdoses from opioids and illicit drugs.

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways people with substance use disorder and opioid addiction can seek help, and ways for people to educate themselves and their loved ones on the opioid crisis.

What are Opioids and Opiates?

Although people might use the two terms interchangeably, opioids and opiates are a bit different.

Opiates are derived from natural substances from the poppy flower known as the Papaveroideae. These flowers can now be found everywhere in the world, but are mostly from the northern hemisphere and prominent in Afghanistan. Although they are beautiful, they are now the cause of many heartaches, as their sap can be used to create opiates including:

  • Opium
  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Codeiene

Opioids, on the other hand, are man-made in a lab either illegally or legally. They are synthetic and can include powerful drugs including:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet)
  • Fentanyl
  • Loperamide (Imodium)
  • Meperidine
  • Methadone

Similarities Between the Two

Although opiates and opioids differ in terms of how they are produced and their legality (opioids are legal with a prescription, while opiates such as heroin are illegal), they are both highly addictive substances that cause a number of health problems, problems associated with addiction, and can both be fatal.

This is why the CDC chooses to use the term "opioids" when referring to the opioid crisis, as it encompasses both opiates and opioids. We will use this term as well.

How Did the Opioid Crisis Start?

Contrary to popular belief, the opioid crisis has been occurring for hundreds of years. In United States in during the Civil War, opioids were used to treat soldiers hurt in battle.

As we mentioned earlier, opioids are powerful pain relievers that [work]( other incidents.-,How do opioids work%3F,spinal cord to the brain.) directly in the brain by attaching to opioid receptors. They then block any pain signals traveling from the spinal cord up to the brain, which causes immediate relief from mild, moderate, or severe pain.

Unfortunately, opioids also cause a surge of endorphins to be released, which are feel-good chemicals that can become addictive and lead people to build a tolerance to opioids to get the same euphoric effect. Although taking opioids as prescribed can decrease the chances of someone developing opioid use disorder, some people still develop addiction. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 21 to 29 percent of people prescribed opioids for chronic pain end up misusing them.

How People Are Impacted

People addicted to opioids can suffer all the effects of drug addiction, even if their opioids are prescribed by a doctor. This includes:

  • Legal issues
  • Relationship problems
  • Issues at work or school
  • Health problems such as myocarditis when shooting up heroin, nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing
  • Death from overdoses, especially when mixing powerful substances like Fentanyl and other opioids

Treatment for Opioids

Opioids are extremely difficult to stop using due to their withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can include:

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Nasuea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation

Fortunately, a Medically Assisted Treatment Program can be used in an inpatient or outpatient setting that provides medical monitoring, medication such as Suboxane, Methadone, Vivitrol, and Buprenorphine, and support from drug counseling staff. Combining medications with psychotherapy can be incredibly effective and help people achieve sobriety.

Hope on the Horizon

Recent data by the NIDA showed that among 38 states with prescription opioid overdose death data, 17 states saw a decline in deaths from 2017-2018, and none saw increases in deaths.

Knowledge of the opioid crisis along with increased treatment options, naloxone kits that can save people from overdoses, and breaking the stigma of drug abuse and addiction can all help people save their lives and break free from opioid use disorder.


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