Opioid use disorder is a disease that threatens people across geographic and socioeconomic spectrums and affects nearly all races, gender, and age groups. It reaches people who wouldn’t otherwise be at risk for drug abuse disorders. Once caught up in the opioid crisis, individuals may not seek treatment because of the stigmas associated with drug dependencies. With the right facts, however, the path to overcoming this disease could lead to a victorious recovery.
A Widespread Crisis
The opioid epidemic is rapidly gaining attention across the country because it is so widespread. Startling statistics tell a bleak story.
- One person dies from opioid addiction every eight minutes.
- There’s been a 400 percent rise in addictions and overdoses since 2000.
- In the 12-month period leading up to February 2019, 67,029 opioid drug overdose deaths were reported.
- In spite of declines, opioids are still widely prescribed for chronic pain relief.
- A prescribed dose of 50 MME (morphine milligram equivalent) doubles the risk of overdose death. When the dose reaches 90 MME, the risk of death increases 10 times.
- 80 percent of those people who use heroin were first prescribed opioid painkillers.
Information from the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Drug Administration show that the opioid crisis affects people from all walks of life.
What Are Opioids?
These drugs are powerful painkillers. This drug group includes both prescription medications and illicit drugs. Some of the drug names may be very familiar to anyone who has visited the dentist or a family doctor for pain relief: oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, Vicodin, and morphine. The prescription drugs are as addictive and as dangerous as heroin.
Opioid Dependence Leads to Physical and Neurological Changes
In addition to their habit-forming attributes, opioids lead to significant physical and neurological changes. Some damages occur after short-term use, but the changes become worse the longer the drugs are used. It doesn’t take very long for a person to develop a physical dependence on the drugs, so it becomes harder and harder for the individual to avoid the misuse of opioids. Symptoms and the long-term effects of opioid use disorder include
- Shallow breathing and breathing problems
- Low blood pressure
- Lack of coordination
- Mood swings and irritability
- Sleep disruptions
- Nausea, cramping, and vomiting
- Chest pain, heart failure, and cardiac arrest
- Acid reflux and organ damage
People who have become dependent on opioids often find that they can’t cope with pain on their own anymore. The use of opioids decreases pain tolerance, negatively affects the immune system, and increases the risk of infections, particularly for those who use needles to inject opioids.
Obstacles to Recovery
The sense of stigma, the prejudices against mental illnesses, and the negative conversations about opioid use disorder all stand in the way of successfully combating the illness. Many people avoid treatment because they are worried about the stereotypes that accompany drug dependence. Societal and personal discrimination pose real barriers to treatment and recovery. It’s crucial that conversations about substance dependence change.
Establishing Support for Recovery
Parents, family, and friends with loved ones battling this disorder must offer support and stability. Recovery from opioid dependence is often a lifelong struggle that requires a lot of commitment. Family and friends must realize that treatment doesn’t provide a cure. After working through inpatient or outpatient treatment, an individual must still face financial, employment, health, and relationship challenges. These consequences of dependence are difficult to face and could trigger relapses. The family members and friends who make up a support system must be prepared to make lifestyle changes to diminish the temptation of relapse. The recovery journey is a process that involves both friends and family.
Treatment Providers Offer Recovery Options
Recovery from substance dependence generally begins with a reputable, licensed treatment provider. It is very dangerous for those who suffer from substance disorders to stop using drugs without support. A “cold turkey” approach can be lethal. Instead, a combination of medications and behavioral interventions, or medication assisted treatment, provides a way to increase treatment results and decrease the risk of overdose deaths.
Medication Assisted Treatment
One common misconception that people have when the Medication Assisted Treatment versus Opioid Use Disorder solution is presented is that the treatment just replaces one drug with another. However, treatment medications don’t have the same physical and neurological consequences. The medications used in MAT programs reduce withdrawal symptoms and relieve some of the cravings that make recovery so difficult. The medications used to treat opioid dependence have been approved by the FDA. In fact, when naloxone or buprenorphine (recovery medications) is used in combination with behavioral interventions, 66 percent more people were successful when compared to treatment without the medication.
Why Medications Are Part of Treatment
A number of benefits accompany the use of medication assisted treatment. For example, when combatting the Rise in Opioid Crisis and MAT options are in place, treatment providers have found that the rates of recidivism are reduced, and the likelihood of relapse is decreased. With the use of recovery medication, fatal overdoses were cut in half.
It’s Time for Recovery
In the United States, nearly two million people are dying while waiting for opioid dependence treatment, and the majority of people with opioid dependence don’t have access to treatment. As the country opens its eyes to this dilemma, more action is needed. Doctors must look for other ways to treat chronic pain, families must recognize the signs and consequences of substance dependence, stigmas associated with drug use must change, and treatment options must include all available resources.