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Prescription Opioids: Abuse, Withdrawal, Overdose & Treatment
Imagine this: your doctor prescribes you opioids to help manage pain from an injury, surgery, or chronic condition. You take them as directed and soon find that you no longer feel pain—in fact, the opioids make you feel good. So you keep taking them, maybe even increase the dose a bit on your own. Before long, you’re addicted to opioids and struggling with all the consequences that come with that addiction.
No one ever wants to get addicted to prescription opioids, but it can happen. In this blog post, we’ll talk about addiction, withdrawal, overdose, detox, and treatment. We’ll also answer some common questions about opioids.
What Are Prescription Opioids?
Prescription opioids are a group of pain reliever drugs whose dosage and usage are controlled because of their potency and addictive potential. These drugs can be produced synthetically or naturally but their main source is the opium poppy plant.
These substances have been widely used ever since in the market because of their proven medical benefits. However, there has been a tremendous crisis in the misuse and abuse of these substances since the 1990s.
This crisis happened due to the lack of information drive on the drugs’ side effects and addictive potential. It showed several side effects even for a short-term period of using these drugs. Likewise, the illegal production and distribution of its counterfeits have contributed to the widespread overdose incidents from these substances.
What Do Prescription Opioids Look Like?
It depends on the type of opioid you’re prescribed. Opioids come in many different forms, including pills, liquids, patches, and injectables.
In the market, there are several generic and brand names of these prescription opioids. Some of the typical generic names of these drugs are Tramadol, Oxycodone, Morphine, Methadone, Meperidine, Hydromorphone, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone, Codeine, and Buprenorphine.
There are several brand names of these prescription opioids available in stores and pharmacies. Some of the popular brand names of these drugs are Ultram, Conzip, Opana, Oxycontin, Percodan, Astramorph, Avinza, Demerol, Dilaudid, Exalgo, Lorcet, Lortab, Actiq, Sublimaze, Buprenex, Butrans, and more.
What Are Prescription Opioids Used For?
Opioids are primarily prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain. Different brands of these drugs have varying degrees of pain relief action. This pain relief action can range either from light to medium pain or medium to severe pain sensations.
For others experiencing an intensely painful condition, the drug is administered intravenously or injected in the area near the spinal cord. This process induces faster pain relief action compared to oral ingestion.
How Do Prescription Opioids Work?
Whether natural or synthetic, these substances work similarly in producing their potent pain-relieving effect.
Once orally ingested these substances mix in the blood and target the brain. It attaches itself to the opioid receptor sites where it prevents the brain from interpreting painful sensations all over the body.
Aside from that, it has another function that boosts its pain relief function, that is, it stimulates the secretion of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a brain chemical and hormone which is responsible for the “happy feeling” an individual feels.
How Long Before You Can Feel the Effects of Prescription Opioids?
The time a prescription opioid will take effect will again depend on the type of opioid you took and how you took it. If you ingested it orally, it would take around thirty to sixty minutes before its pain-relieving effect sets in.
However, if the drug is injected intravenously or intramuscularly, the pain-relieving effect can be felt within five to ten minutes.
How Long Do Opioids Stay In Your System?
Depending on the type of opioid you took, it can stay in your system from 3 days to 90 days. It will also depend on how frequently you use it and the dosage you took.
For those who frequently use opioids or take a high dose of these substances, it can be detectable in your system for a longer period.
On the other hand, if you only take it once and at a low dosage, it will only be detectable in your system for a shorter time. The testing methods used will also affect how long opioids can be detected.
What are the Short and Long-term Effects of Opioids?
Once a person starts taking these medications, certain side effects can be readily felt by the user. These side effects can intensify when the person uses these medications for a longer time at a higher dose.
The typical short-term side effects of using these medications include slower breathing patterns, drowsiness, vomiting, lower blood pressure, stomach pain, and lethargy.
Meanwhile, the long-term side effects of these medications include disorientation, delusions, painful bones and muscles, constipation, cold clammy skin, coma, respiratory failure, and death.
Aside from that, these substances pose an imminent danger when used by pregnant women. Its side effects are more detrimental to the unborn child which has the tendency to cause abnormalities. Likewise, the residue of these drugs can mix in the mother’s breast milk.
Are Prescription Opioids Addictive?
Yes, prescription opioids are addictive. Despite their proven medical benefits, these drugs have been reportedly misused and abused by a large population of users.
It is because of its high addictive potential derived from the euphoric and relaxed sensation felt by the user from using these substances.
What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms?
The withdrawal symptoms from opioids can be quite uncomfortable and may even last for weeks. These symptoms are associated with an intense craving for the drug which can make it difficult to quit.
The typical withdrawal symptoms include muscle aches, diarrhea, sweating, runny nose, watery eyes, goosebumps, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, and irritability.
What Causes Opioids Overdose? Signs of an Overdose
Overdose can occur from taking too much of the drug or by mixing it with other illicit substances. There are several cases of death from overdose with these substances. Around 68,630 overdose-related deaths from opioids took place in 202. From this data, prescription opioids account for 74.% of its overall overdose deaths.
When meditating with these drugs, it becomes more dangerous when mixed with other substances such as alcohol and other illicit uppers such as cocaine. Other substances which must be avoided when taking these medications include muscle relaxants, benzos, and sleeping pills.
When mixed with alcohol, the depressing effects of prescription opioids are magnified. It can lead to respiratory failure or a sudden drop in blood pressure which can both lead to death.
When mixed with other illicit uppers, the euphoric feeling derived from these medications is further magnified which makes the patient more dependent on these drugs. Likewise, the painful withdrawal symptoms from dependence and addiction are a challenging endeavor to overcome.
What Should You Do If Someone Is Overdosing?
If someone you know is overdosing on opioids, it is important to stay calm and call medical help immediately. While waiting, try to keep the person awake and breathing.
If the person stops breathing, perform CPR if you are trained to do so. You can also use naloxone (Narcan) if it is available. Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose. This can be administered through a nasal spray or an injection.
How Do You Treat Opioid Addiction? Detox & Treatment
The common treatment program for addiction to prescription opioids includes prescription of medications, behavioral therapies, residential treatment, or admittance inside the hospital.
The first thing to do for the patient is to undergo detoxification and abstinence.
Consequently, these two processes can induce several withdrawal symptoms which might be painful for the patient. To ease these withdrawal symptoms, Methadone is typically prescribed to most patients. Unlike other opioids, this one does not make the patient high; instead, it balances the opioid receptor sites in the brain.
Other medications used to counter the effect of opioid overdose are buprenorphine and naloxone. It generally reduces the effects of these opioid substances by attaching themselves to the receptor site and restoring the balance.
Overall, these medications intend to cure the biological aspect inflicted by addiction. Whereas, behavioral therapies aim to re-establish positive behavior and hasten the recovery process of any patient.
The common behavioral therapies included in addiction treatment programs include cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, and group counseling.
Final Thoughts: Addressing Opioid Abuse and Addiction
The abuse of opioids is a global problem that needs to be addressed immediately. With the continuous increase in the number of deaths caused by overdose, it has become more important to find ways to reduce this number.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. There are many resources available to help you through this difficult time.