According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, opioid-related deaths in the United States increased from 56,064 to 75,673 during the 12 months ending April 2021. This shocking statistic shows that it’s critical for family members and loved ones to recognize the signs that someone is addicted to pain pills and help them get treatment as soon as possible.
Opioids are a broad category of drugs that includes the street drug heroin as well as prescription medications such as OxyContin, Vicodin, morphine, fentanyl and methadone. These drugs bind with receptors in the brain to reduce pain and suppress coughs when used as legally prescribed. They also cause an intense euphoria, which can lead to dependence and addiction.
To speed up and maximize the drug’s effect on the brain and get a stronger and more rapid high, users often crush opioid pills and snort or inject them. This can lead to an overdose of the drug that severely depresses the respiratory system, resulting in coma or death.
Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than heroin or prescription opioids. It’s commonly used to alter street drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine. Many opioid addicts die because they unknowingly purchase fentanyl when they believe they’re buying heroin or a prescription opioid.
Here are some additional facts about opioid use and addiction from the National Institute of Drug Abuse:
- About 21%-29% of people prescribed opioids will misuse them.
- Roughly 4%-6% of people who misuse prescription opioids become addicted to heroin.
- Approximately 80% of heroin users first used prescription opioids.
- The chances of developing an opioid use disorder (OUD) depend on several factors, including how long a person has been taking prescription opioids to reduce pain or misusing the drug, whether prescribed or obtained illegally.
Hollywood Stereotypes About Drug Use
In a study titled Addiction, Stigma and Movies, the author identified four prevalent stereotypes used in movies about drug addiction: the tragic hero, the demonized user, the rebellious free spirit and the comedic user. Hollywood movies about drug use “have a powerful influence on the public and perpetuate popular mythologies regarding alcohol and other drug use.”
Hollywood has made a number of movies about drug problems. There was “Panic in Needle Park” in the 70s and “The Basketball Diaries” and “Trainspotting” in the 90s. More recently, there were “Ben Is Back,” “Hillbilly Elegy” and “Four Good Days.” Many of these films feature excellent acting and portrayed some fundamental issues drug users have.
However, as Elizabeth Brico describes in her review of “Four Good Days,” Hollywood movies about drug addiction too often resort to stereotypes.
“The conflation of drug users with ‘zombies’ fuels a long-standing stereotype that people who use drugs are incapable of self-agency. That they are half-dead, self-harming monsters who lie and steal and manipulate to get their next fix — the only thing they care about,” Brico writes. “That this behavior is why they need to be locked away in prison, or at least rehab, and why their children need to be taken away.”
How To Tell If Someone Is on Opiates
Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a medical condition in which an individual can’t abstain from opioids and exhibits behaviors that interfere with their daily life. It may be difficult to spot OUD at first, but over time, the person addicted to opioids will display signs that they need help.
What does opioid addiction look like? The true signs can include:
- Recurring flu-like symptoms
- Lack of hygiene
- Changes in exercise routines
- Movement away from family or friends
- Weight loss
- Visiting multiple doctors to obtain more opioid prescriptions
- “Borrowing” prescription opioids from others
- Decreased libido
- Financial troubles
- Using prescription opioids “just in case,” even when not in pain
- Criminal activities like stealing from family, friends or others to pay for drug use
- Loss of coordination
- Shallow and slow breathing
- Repeatedly making poor decisions
- “Losing” medications so that new prescriptions are needed
- Frequent vomiting
- Slurred speech
An individual is more likely to have an opioid problem if they:
- Are in their teens or early 20s
- Are unemployed or living below the poverty line
- Have a family history of substance abuse
- Have had legal problems, including DUIs
- Hang out with people who regularly use drugs or in environments where drug use is common
- Suffer from anxiety or severe depression
- Smoke a lot
- Exhibit thrill-seeking behavior
If you think a friend or loved one is addicted to opioids, don’t hesitate to voice your concerns. Opioid addicts are much more likely to recover if they have the support of family members who refuse to ignore the issue.
What To Do for Someone Who Has an Opioid Addiction
When deciding whether to help someone who’s addicted to opioids, it’s only natural to have concerns. You might question whether you should get involved in their life or hope that someone else will help them. Your friend or family member may have hurt you with their past actions. Regardless of what happened in the past, it’s always best to speak up so the individual can find professional help to address their addiction.
OUD is treatable, and preventing overdose and death and finding treatment are the first steps toward recovery. Withdrawal from opioids typically lasts 3-5 days but can go as long as 14 days. The initial symptoms can be severe, so supervision is advisable during this process.
Once withdrawal is complete, the individual can work with their doctor to arrange a personalized treatment plan that may include the use of medications to help reduce their cravings for opioids. Therapy may also help the person understand the reasons behind their addiction. This can consist of one-on-one sessions with a psychologist and group therapy, as in a 12-step program. The goal is to help the person return to being a productive member of their family, workplace and community.
Getting Help for Opioid Addiction
If your friend or loved one is showing the signs of opioid addiction, we’re here to help. Our compassionate team of counselors at FHE Health is standing by 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today at (833) 596-3502.