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Opioid Addiction

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid addiction crisis sweeping the United States a Public Health Emergency. 

Incidences of both alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) and drug addiction (substance use disorder) dramatically increased from 2019 to 2020, according to data from the yearly  NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) published by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). The most current data from NSDUH 2020 shows that the number of people diagnosed with opioid addiction (opioid use disorder) dropped from 2 million in 2019 to 1.6 million in 2020.

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While physicians may be prescribing fewer opioid painkillers and the overall rate of opioid use disorder is declining, this does not mean the opioid epidemic is resolved. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states that the third wave of the opioid crisis began in 2013. That year was marked by a significant increase in overdose deaths associated with synthetic opioids like fentanyl. This National Vital Statistics System report shows that fentanyl was at least partially to blame for the 30% rise in fatal drug overdoses in the United States. 

Beyond this, opioid addiction is a worldwide health issue with the global number of those using opioids almost doubling from 2010 to 2019, according to the United Nations Drug Report 2021. It is estimated that 62 million people used opioids over the previous year, including those who used prescription painkillers, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, and opiates like the illicit narcotic heroin.

Article at a Glance:

What is Opioid Addiction?

Opioid addiction can involve any of the following opioids or opiates: 

  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl
  • Opium
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Methadone

If you are unable to stop using opioids and your behaviors are so heavily based on the use of opioids that it’s impacting your daily living and functioning, you likely have opioid use disorder. 

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is the clinical descriptor for opioid addiction. OUD is applied to opioid addiction and opiate addiction. OUD is diagnosed according to the criteria set out in DSM5-TR, the most recent version of diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by American Psychological Association. 

Opioid addiction and dependence are closely interlinked but not synonymous. 

If you develop physical dependence on opioids, you will experience intensely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms in the absence of opioids. Physical dependence does not always occur, although tolerance to opioids builds rapidly, meaning that many people find themselves requiring more opioids to achieve the same effect. Both tolerance and withdrawal are indicative of physical dependence on opioids. 

The sustained abuse of opioids triggers structural and functional changes to the brain. The combination of physical and psychological effects means most people grappling with opioid use disorder find that a medically supervised detox followed by either inpatient or outpatient rehab provides the optimum route to recovery.

Abusing opioids long-term can cause the following physical and psychological effects:

  • Vivid hallucinations
  • Compromised immune system
  • Heightened risk of HIV/AIDS
  • Collapsed veins
  • Clogged blood vessels
  • Slowed breathing rate
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Increased risk of contracting hepatitis

Before we highlight the signs and symptoms of opioid addiction and the best treatments for recovery without relapse, a snapshot of some opioid addiction statistics.

Statistics

The following opioid abuse statistics are sourced from SAMHSA’s NSDUH 2019 and NSDUH 2020, and also from NCHS and CDC data.

  • In 2020, almost 15,000 people overdosed on heroin in the United States.
  • Among the 50,000 first-time users of heroin each year, some arrive start using this fiercely addictive drug when they are unable to refill prescriptions for opioid painkillers.
  • From 2019 to 2020, the number of fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. increased from 70,000 to over 100,000.
  • In the same period, there has been a slight decline in the rate of opioid use disorder, down to 1.6 million from 2 million adults with OUD.
  • Nearly 30% of those prescribed opioid painkillers for the management of chronic pain misuse the medication, with 10% eventually developing OUD.
  • Of the 10 million adults in the U.S. prescribed opioids in 2019, 1.6 million abused opioids for the first time.
  • 6% of those who misuse prescription opioids subsequently use heroin. Among those who use heroin, 80% first abused or misused prescription opioids.

Opioid Addiction Risk Factors

Opioids are most addictive if you use routes of delivery other than prescribed – crushing opioid pills to snort or inject, for instance. If the tablet is a long-acting or extended-release opioid, the risks increase. By rapidly delivering too much of an opioid to your body, you can cause an accidental and potentially fatal overdose. 

If you start taking more opioids than prescribed or taking the medication more frequently than directed, you will increase your risk for addiction. 

Using opioids for more than a few days will increase your chances of developing a subsequent opioid use disorder. 

Many other environmental, genetic, and psychological factors all play a part in any addiction. Addiction to opioids can develop quite quickly, or it may not present until you have been using opioids for years. No two addictions are alike. 

Some of the main known risk factors for opioid addiction are as follows: 

A number of additional factors — genetic, psychological and environmental — play a role in addiction, which can happen quickly or after many years of opioid use. 

The primary risk factors of opioid misuse and addiction include: 

  • History of severe anxiety or depression
  • Individual history of drug abuse
  • Family history of drug abuse
  • Individual history of criminal activity
  • Contact with those who use substances
  • High-risk environments
  • Unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Heavy tobacco use
  • Prior drug or alcohol rehab

Signs of Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction symptoms vary significantly from person to person. Some of the signs are detectable soon after an individual starts using opioids, while others do not manifest for months or even years.

Early Signs

Opioid addiction is detectable from early use in any of the following ways: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Intense cravings for opioids
  • Tolerance for opioids
  • Inability to control opioid use despite negative consequences
  • Withdrawal symptoms in absence of opioids
  • Spending lots of time and money using opioids
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Frequent drowsiness
  • Weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Continual flu-like symptoms
  • Reduction in exercise and fitness levels
  • Less attention paid to personal hygiene
  • Isolating behaviors
  • Financial difficulties
  • Stealing from friend and family
  • Diminished interpersonal relationships
  • Reduced overall quality of life
  • Continuing to use opioids regardless of health concerns

Later Symptoms

Over time, the abuse of opioids and opioid addiction can trigger any of the following effects: 

  • Mental health issues
  • Impaired mental functioning
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Slower breathing rate
  • Infections
  • Skin rashes
  • Weight gain
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Collapsed veins
  • Infections of the heart valves and lining and valves
  • Opioid use disorder
  • Opioid overdose
  • Coma

Opioid Addiction Treatment

Opioid addiction medication can help mitigate both opioid withdrawal and opioid dependence. 

The U.S. Drug and Food Administration (FDA) approves several medications for the treatment of OUD. These medications can reduce the intensity of cravings for opioids and also minimize the extent of severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms. 

Both buprenorphine and methadone are proven to reduce the symptoms of withdrawal from opioids. Both medications are also effective throughout a course of MAT (medication-assisted treatment). 

MAT is more effective when delivered in combination with psychotherapy and counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Medications used for the treatment of opioid use disorder widely include: 

  • Opioid agonists
  • Opioid antagonists
  • Non-opioid agonists
  • Partial opioid agonists
  • Antidepressants
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Anti-nausea medications
  • Sleep aids

Medication

The three core medications approved by the FDA for the treatment of OUD are: 

  • Vivitrol
  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine

Vivitrol

Vivitrol is a branded and injectable form of naltrexone. An opioid antagonist, naltrexone interferes with the mechanism of action if you consume opioids when taking the medication. 

Vivitrol is not sedative or addictive. The medication is usually administered under controlled conditions in a clinic or an treatment center.

Methadone

Methadone is a slow-acting agonist used to treat heroin use disorder for decades. 

This prescription opioid has a high potential for misuse or abuse. The sustained use of methadone can also trigger the development of physical dependence. 

If methadone is used as a component of MAT, it will replace the opioid of abuse without delivering rewarding effects. The medication is available through certified treatment programs. Like naltrexone, methadone is administered in a clinical setting.

Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine can be beneficial for reducing the cravings characteristic of opioid detox. The medication is classified as a weak partial opioid agonist. This means it can deliver some rewarding effects, although not as powerfully as full opioid agonists like methadone and heroin. 

Before you start taking buprenorphine, you must refrain from taking opioids for at least 12 hours and ideally 24 hours. If you take buprenorphine with any opioids in your system, this can bring on acute opioid withdrawal. 

You can take buprenorphine safely on an ongoing basis under medical supervision.

While all of these medications can play a vital role in recovery from opioid addiction, they are best utilized as part of a comprehensive treatment program.

Opioid Addiction Help at California Detox

Here at California Detox, we offer a wide variety of treatment programs suitable for addressing the physical and psychological aspects of opioid use disorder. 

Most people with opioid addiction benefit from a medical detox. The process is streamlined through the use of the above medications. Any risks from complications during detoxification are also minimized. 

After a week or so, you will be opioid-free and ready to attack ongoing treatment at any of the following levels of intensity: 

  • OPs (outpatient programs)
  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs)
  • PHPs (partial hospitalization programs)
  • Inpatient rehab (residential rehab)

If you have a co-occurring mental health condition like anxiety disorder, depression, or PTSD, our dual diagnosis treatment program helps you deal with both conditions simultaneously. 

Regardless of the level of intensity which makes the best fit for the treatment of your opioid use disorder, all of our programs deliver an evidence-based array of treatments, including MAT (medication-assisted treatment), counseling, and psychotherapy. 

We are here to help you combat opioid addition from detox to discharge and beyond. Call California Detox today at 949.567.8790.

FAQs

Taking opioids triggers an endorphin release in the body. Endorphins are chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that increase feelings of pleasure and muffle the perception of pain. The overall physical effect of opioids is both pain-relieving and rewarding, with the medication delivering a strong but fleeting sense of well-being.

Fentanyl is among the strongest pain medications. It is up to 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and many magnitudes stronger than heroin. A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is prescribed in limited circumstances, such as the treatment of severe post-surgery pain.

 

Increasingly, fentanyl is abused for recreational purposes. Additionally, many drug traffickers now cut batches of heroin with fentanyl, often with deadly consequences.

Codeine is an opiate narcotic analgesic not an opioid. 

Opiates are chemical compounds refined from or extracted from poppy sap, fibers, and other natural plant matter. These are all opiates: 

  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Opium 

Opioids are man-made chemical compounds not derived from plant matter but instead synthesized in labs. Opioids can be semi-synthetic (oxycodone or heroin) or synthetic (fentanyl).

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