Why Are So Many People Suffering From Opiate Addiction?


Why Are So Many People Suffering From Opiate Addiction?

The Opiates are a group of drugs, including morphine, heroin, and prescription pain relievers. According to the National Institute on Drug Health (NIH) “It is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide,[1] with an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and an estimated 467,000 addicted to heroin.” The number only continues to rise throughout the years; which begs the question, why is this an epidemic, and why are so many people struggling with opiate addiction?

Opiates play a significant role in healing and reducing human suffering via pain relievers, but; they may also yield extremely negative effects on the human body. Scientists are working to find the balance between maximizing relief and minimizing the risks associated with pain relievers.

Rise of Prescription Opiate Addiction and Dependency

There are three main categories of prescription drugs: Opiates, stimulants and central nervous system depressants. There has been a dramatic increase opiates prescriptions for individuals who are in pain or recovering from injuries or surgeries.


Opioid Prescriptions Dispensed by US Retail Pharmacies via the National Institute on Drug Health

This graph shows a noticeable increase in the amount of prescribed opiate pain relievers over the last 25 years. Opioids represent the largest portion of medications prescribed to consumers.

According to the graph, there was around 76 million in 1997 and jumped to 207 million in 2013. With so many painkillers being prescribed and readily available to Americans, this social phenomenon naturally gives way to drug abuse.

Abuse of Opioids

A person may become addicted while following doctor’s orders. Even when taking their written prescription, as advised, there is an opportunity for opiate addiction to take hold. The chance is small, but it is certainly possible.

When an individual uses opioids for non-medical purposes, their chances of addiction are very high. This practice is illegal, dangerous and highly unadvisable. Per NIH, “In 2012, over five percent of the U.S. population aged 12 years or older used opioid pain relievers non-medically.”

With over 100 million people suffering from chronic pain in America, many rely on opioids to remedy their ailments. Additionally, a large percentage of opioid dependent individuals are affected by an increasing tolerance to the drugs they depend upon. As of June 2012, “NIH and FDA held a joint meeting on this topic,[14] and now FDA is requiring companies who manufacture long-acting and extended-release opioid formulations to conduct post-marketing research on their safety,” per NIH.

Effects of Abuse

OxyContin and Vicodin are commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain.

This class of drugs works by attaching to opioid receptors (proteins) that are found on the nerve cells in the brain. When the drugs attach, they reduce pain and produce a sense of well-being. Negative side effects include mental confusion, constipation, drowsiness, and nausea. If these drugs are taken continuously, the natural production chemicals in the brain become inhibited. This is how withdrawals occur and withdrawal symptoms begin.

Opiates can be taken in various ways to increase the received pleasure reward. The substance can be crushed and snorted or injected, which increases euphoria. This also increases the risk of addiction, coma, or respiratory arrest. All medicine is released at one-time, but snorting or injecting creates a longer release time, which raises the risks.

Opiates are very accessible. In 2010, there were 13,652 unintentional deaths from opioid drugs. Part of the epidemic is that many pain relievers can be sold on the street, and end up being diverted for nonmedical use.

Treatment for Opiate Addiction

Every individual’s unique source of addiction needs to be handled in a special way. For treatment of drug abuse, the changes in the brain must be addressed.

Quitting opioids may lead to the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hypertension
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Tachycardia

The first step of treatment is to help ease the pain of the innate symptoms. There are a few different medications that can be prescribed to individuals with Opioid substance abuse issues. Some of the more popular medications are Suboxone and Methadone. These medications are safe for consumption because they enter and leave the brain at a slow pace.

This group of medications helps the individual overcome relapse triggers and aid him or her throughout the detoxification stage. These medications are safe because they enter and leave the brain at a slow pace.

When prescription medication is used properly it is very safe and effective. The problem lies with the end-user abusing the medication; it’s at that point that painkillers start to become dangerous.

Anyone can be an addict

It’s important to address opiate addiction before it becomes a problem. Prevention and education are both very important to help reduce the number of people abusing opioids. Addressing addiction starts with preventative programs that communicate the dangers of substance abuse to children and teenagers.

NIDA is committed to advancing American’s awareness of addiction and furthering the prevention of substance abuse. Abuse can happen to anyone; and the trick to preventing future generations from suffering the same fate so many have, is to educate young minds before addiction has an opportunity to take root.

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