Opioids are a class of prescription medications derived from the opium poppy plant. Some of these medications may be completely artificial in a scientific lab. Opioids are often prescribed to patients to treat and manage pain levels. However, they may also be used to treat cough and diarrhea. Common names of opioids prescribed include:
While opioids can be excellent treatment choices for pain management, their use does come with risks. These risks include developing a dependence on opioids and an addiction to opioids. However, there is a difference between opioid dependence and opioid addiction.
Side Effects of Opioid Misuse
Opioid misuse can have devastating consequences, both on an individual’s health and their life in general. Opioid abuse can lead to addiction, tolerance, and even death. In addition, while using opioids, an individual may experience drowsiness, confusion, respiratory depression (slow breathing), severe constipation, as well as nausea. An addiction to opioids can cause an individual to experience withdrawal symptoms when they do not use the medication. Withdrawal can be painful, including muscle pain, bone pain, nausea, cold sweats, tremors, abdominal pain, vomiting, insomnia, and more. Long-term use can lead to cardiovascular disease as well. In addition, addiction can cause an individual to experience financial hardships, broken relationships, job loss, and unsafe environments. One of the biggest concerns with opioid misuse and abuse is overdose. Anyone experiencing an opioid overdose needs immediate medical assistance, and if that treatment is not received, it can lead to death.
Opioid Dependence vs. Opioid Addiction
One may read that an individual has an opioid dependence and assume they are addicted to opioid medications. This isn’t exactly true. Opioid dependence and opioid addiction are actually entirely different occurrences. When an individual uses opioid medications as directed for an extended amount of time, a dependence may occur. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the differences between dependence and addiction are as follows:
“Physical dependence occurs because of normal adaptations to chronic exposure to a drug and is not the same as addiction. Addiction, which can include physical dependence, is distinguished by compulsive drug seeking and use despite sometimes devastating consequences. Someone who is physically dependent on a medication will experience withdrawal symptoms when use of the drug is abruptly reduced or stopped. These symptoms can be mild or severe (depending on the drug) and can usually be managed medically or avoided by using a slow drug taper. Dependence is often accompanied by tolerance, or the need to take higher doses of a medication to get the same effect. When tolerance occurs, it can be difficult for a physician to evaluate whether a patient is developing a drug problem, or has a real medical need for higher doses to control their symptoms. For this reason, physicians need to be vigilant and attentive to their patients’ symptoms and level of functioning to treat them appropriately.” (nih.gov)
Opioid dependence is the body’s natural adaptation to being exposed to opioid medication for extended time periods and in a dependence situation, the medication is taken as directed. Opioid addiction is similar to dependence, however, in an addiction, the medication is not being taken as prescribed and is being misused or overused. Both situations can have devastating symptoms and withdrawals; however opioid misuse leading to addiction has specific warning signs physicians look for.
Signs of Opioid Misuse
Opioid misuse is a common trend when looking at statistics. According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, in 2019 nearly 9.1 million individuals misused prescription opioids. (hss.gov) This number is startling, and part of the reason behind the government cracking down on prescriptions nationwide. The opioid crisis in America has led to research showing what physicians, pharmacists, other healthcare providers, and family or friends can look for to detect that an individual may be misusing their prescription medications. Some of these signs include:
- “Doctor shopping”, where a patient goes to multiple physicians to get new prescriptions.
- Patients run out of their medications early.
- Patients report that they have developed a “tolerance” to their dose.
- Irritability, nervousness, and excitability.
- Lack of hygiene.
- Financial hardships due to spending money on medications.
- Changes in surroundings such as friendship circles.
- Problems at work or school.
- Missing appointments or obligations.
- Severe mood swings.
- Changes in eating habits.
Long-term opioid misuse can lead to addiction, as well as health issues. It is important that anyone suspected of misusing their prescription medications receive the proper treatment to avoid addiction or these other health consequences.
Opioid Misuse and Overdose
It is estimated that opioid overdose contributes to more than 70% of overdose deaths nationwide. An opioid overdose is a serious situation and needs immediate medical attention. If you suspect you or someone else is experiencing an opioid overdose, it is vital to their life that 911 is immediately called. An opioid overdose requires specific medications (naloxone, Narcan) to reverse the overdose and potentially save that individual’s life. Symptoms of an opioid overdose include:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Shallow breathing
- Blue lips or fingernail beds
- Cold or clammy skin
- Snoring or gurgling sounds
Again, an opioid overdose is a medical emergency. It is easy to overdose on opioids, and it can happen anytime. It isn’t too late, and treatment is available if you or someone you love is addicted to or misusing prescription opioids.
Making the Decision to Break Free From Opioids
There are treatment options available for opioid misuse and addiction. At Evoke Wellness, MA, we offer comprehensive, individualized treatment programs to get you the help you need. Our staff of compassionate, highly trained medical professionals works with you to ensure you have the best recovery journey and outcome possible. We offer a medical detox program to help avoid withdrawal symptoms, but we also offer aftercare services so that you are never alone in your recovery. So don’t wait any longer; get the help you need by calling us today.