How Opioid Addiction Happens
Opium is a chemical that naturally occurs in poppy plants and seeds.
Opioids are synthetic versions of the alkaloids found in the opium poppy. This includes illicit drugs like heroin and prescription medications such as codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl.
These drugs are used clinically for treating moderate to severe pain. Due to the extremely calming, sedating, and relaxing effects they produce, opioid painkillers have high abuse rates, which often lead to problems with addiction.
Addiction to painkillers usually begins after being prescribed something to mitigate pain symptoms following an injury or accident.
Typically, people do not start using the substance with the intent to abuse it. It’s something that happens over time. With consistent use, patients may feel that the medication is no longer as effective as it once was, and they will begin to increase their dosage instead of following what the doctor initially recommended. This is due to an issue referred to as tolerance.
Increasing opioid dosage without consulting your doctor will often lead to a physical dependence on the substance. At that point, individuals will begin to feel that they need to take the pain killer to feel normal.
Eventually, they’ll start experiencing intense cravings and urges to continue using them. In other words, they will start to become addicted.
Once an individual reaches the point of addiction, it will begin to compromise their psychological and physical health. It quite literally becomes a disease that feels inescapable to the person abusing the substance. This usually leaves the person with a lifelong problem, or they will have to seek help through an addiction rehabilitation facility or program.
In total, 2 million people, or almost 25% of those with drug use disorders, have an opioid abuse disorder. This includes the prescription pain relievers we mentioned above and heroin.
While we’ve been focusing on prescription drugs, street drugs like heroin also contribute significantly to the opioid crisis that the United States currently faces. The number of deaths caused by heroin overdose was over seven times higher in 2019 than it was in 1999.
Also see: 10 Celebrities Who Died from Painkiller ODs.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms of Opioid Overdose?
Overdose is caused by taking too much of a substance or combining multiple substances, which can commonly result in fatalities. Unfortunately, heroin addiction also goes hand in hand with prescription painkiller addiction. The CDC reports that nearly half of the individuals addicted to heroin are also addicted to painkillers and other opioids.
Drug overdoses are one of the leading accidental deaths in the United States, and 40% of all overdose deaths are attributed to painkillers or a combination of drugs that includes painkillers.
Symptoms of overdose include:
- Chest pain
- Cold or clammy skin
- Constricted pupils
- Extreme agitation
- Extreme lethargy or sleepiness
- Limp body
- Loss of consciousness
- Pin-point or constricted pupils
- Restricted breathing
- Severe headaches
Opioid Addiction Statistics
The opioid crisis has surged in the past twenty years despite the so-called “war on drugs.”
Here are some of the most shocking statistics about opioid addiction and abuse in the United States and around the world:
1. Each day, approximately 130 Americans will die from a fatal opioid overdose.
2. West Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Massachusetts are the top 5 states with the highest death rates caused by opioids per 100,000 people.
3. Over 81,230 people died from an opioid drug overdose between June 1, 2019, and May 31, 2020 (the highest number on record in a 12-month period).
4. Rural, white, and Medicaid populations continue to have the highest maternal opioid-related diagnoses and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
5. In 2019, 9.7 million people misused prescription pain relievers.
6. Methadone is the most commonly used opioid in the United States, leading to the most opioid addictions that start with a dependence on prescription medication.
7. Prescription opioids attributed to over 28% of all opioid-related deaths in 2019.
8. 51.3% of individuals who obtain illegal pain meds get them from a friend or family member.
9. Opioids caused the death of approximately 46,802 people in 2018.
10. Between 1999-2017, almost 400,000 Americans died from their addiction to opioids.
11. Just in 2017, 47,600 opioid-related overdoses resulted in death.
12. An incredible 27% of all deaths for people aged between 25 and 34 were attributed to opioid overdose in 2019 alone.
13. Between 20-30% of people who take prescription painkillers misuse them.
14. The number of Americans who used prescription opioid drugs for non-medical purposes remained relatively constant between 2002 and 2020, with between 9.25 million and 12.65 million cases every year.
15. More adults who have taken opioids for medical reasons were not afraid of addiction than those who were.
16. Approximately 10% of individuals who abuse prescription opioids end up addicted to them.
17. Around 2.1 million Americans are thought to have an opioid use disorder.
18. 5% of those who have an opioid disorder will end up trying heroin.
19. Opioid addiction costs the government approximately $3 billion every year in funds granted for addiction centers, addict support and outreach, and more.
20. There are over 14,000 addiction help centers dedicated to opioid addiction in the United States. That’s around one for every 25,000 US citizens.
21. Over 1 million US residents receive some kind of medical aid for opioid addiction treatment.
23. In 2016 and 2017 alone, there were over 155.8 million non-fatal emergency room visits for opioid overdose. Nearly 41 million of those visits were for patients between the ages of 25 and 34, the largest age representation overall.
24. Naloxone, a substance designed to treat overdose symptoms — often in life-or-death situations — was prescribed more than twice as often in 2018 as in 2017.
25. Only around 1 in every 70 opioid overdoses is treated with Naloxone, an inhalant that can be life-saving in the midst of an overdose.
26. Around 1.6 million people are believed to misuse prescription painkillers for the first time every single year.
27. The number of annual opioid prescriptions has steadily declined since 2012, reaching under 150 million per year in 2021 for the first time since 2006.
28. The number of opioid prescriptions dispensed in the United States increased annually from 2006 to 2012. Since then, the number has decreased steadily through 2021, when the dispensing rate was about half what it was just 9 years earlier.
29. The opioid epidemic was declared a public health emergency in 2017 and has retained that unfortunate distinction since.
30. Less than 10% of all Americans feel that opioid drug addiction is not an issue in their local area. An average of 22% believe it’s a major problem in their neighborhood.
31. More people believe that providing better access to drug treatment centers is a better solution to the opioid epidemic than providing more support for the police to stop drug dealers from perpetuating the problem.
32. More adults in the United States have taken a prescription painkiller without a prescription (misuse) than have been addicted to alcohol or other drugs.
33. When fentanyl was first released in 2013, opioid-related deaths increased by around 50%.
34. More people believe that opioid addiction is attributed to requiring painkillers for some medical issue than any other reason.
Heroin Addiction Statistics
1. 494,000+ Americans over the age of 12 are regular users of heroin.
2. In 2019, 745,000 people used heroin.
3. On average, about 43 people die daily in the United States from a heroin overdose.
4. 25% of individuals who try heroin will become addicted.
5. In 2017, over 15,000 Americans lost their lives to heroin overdose.
6. Around 130,000 Americans died from heroin overdose between 1999 and 2019.
7. Most heroin users get addicted within just a few uses.
8. Heroin addiction generally cannot be cured and is instead treated for the remainder of the recovering user’s life.
9. In 2013, around 21,000 adolescents tried heroin for the first time. This is compared to 66,000 individuals between the ages of 18 and 26, and 82,000 adults over 26 years old.
10. The number of heroin users in America who have reported use within the past year has increased significantly since 2002, rising from 404,000 to over 900,000 in 2020.
11. The number of individuals who have reported heroin dependence or abuse within the past year has was higher in people 26 and older in 2020 than ever before, at an incredible 652,000 people.
12. In 2020 alone, a survey revealed that over 500,000 Americans had consumed heroin within the past month.
13. The number of new heroin users per year hasn’t increased significantly since 2002.
14. In 2013, around 6.9 heroin users over the age of 12 were said to have a drug use disorder. About a half-million of these users were addicted to heroin.
15. Heroin addiction treatment has increased significantly in prevalence and success, and in 2013, it was roughly twice as common as it was in 2002.
16. Most individuals believe that there is a great risk in trying heroin just one time. However, the perception of risk is lowest in adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18.
17. The perception of risk remained more or less unchanged across all age groups between 2002 and 2013.
18. The perception of how easily obtainable heroin was decreased between 2002 and 2013 by around 25%. During this same time, the number of new heroin users still increased.
19. More than 100,000 people try heroin for the first time every year.
20. In 2020, more individuals aged 26 or older reported using heroin in the past year than ever before.
21. The number of Americans who have reported heroin use at least once in their lifetimes has increased steadily over the past decade and hit a peak of over 6.2 million in 2020.
22. Reported recent heroin use by users between the ages of 12 and 25 was lower in 2020 than it has been in the past two decades.
23. Around 10% of all opioid addictions involve heroin.
24. Thanks to the use of Narcan, an inhalant designed to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose, the number of deaths related to heroin overdose has declined in the past few years.
25. Fatalities related to heroin overdose were about four times higher in 2019 than they were in 2010.
26. The number of deaths related to heroin overdose has been steadily declining since 2016
27. Around 17% of the population each year believes that it is easy to obtain heroin if desired.
28. The majority of people who use heroin believe that there should be more done by local governments to combat addiction. This sentiment is shared by federal and state governments and doctors who prescribe addictive painkillers.
29. There have been over 41.4 million non-fatal emergency room visits attributed to a heroin overdose in 2016 and 2017 alone.
Getting Help for Opioid Addiction
Treatment options for opioid misuse and addiction normally include the following:
- Medication-assisted therapy (MAT)
- Behavioral therapies and counseling
- Residential or hospital-based treatment programs
Medications for Opioid Addiction
Certain medications can prove to be useful when it comes to treating opioid addiction. These medications include methadone, buprenorphine, naloxone, and naltrexone.
Buprenorphine and methadone are commonly used to mitigate symptoms of withdrawal and cravings. They target the same brain area as other opioids, but they don’t make the user feel intoxicated or high.
Some people are concerned about swapping out one drug for another when it comes to treating opioid addiction with methadone or buprenorphine. Still, they work to restore balance to the parts of the brain previously affected by abusing a substance. This allows your brain to heal, and you can avoid the severe withdrawal symptoms while working towards recovery.
In addition to these drugs, there’s a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Naloxone is a medication commonly used to treat opioid overdose. When taken with buprenorphine, it decreases the chance of an individual misusing the buprenorphine.
These drugs are safe to use long-term, which means months, years, or a lifetime depending on what you require personally. If you would like to stop using them, you must inform your health care provider first and foremost so they can help you work out a safe plan to discontinue use.
Naltrexone works a bit differently compared to methadone and buprenorphine. It doesn’t help with symptoms of withdrawal or cravings and urges. It takes away the high sensation that you would feel after ingesting opioids. Naltrexone is more of a relapse prevention drug and not so much one you would use to help you quit opioids or help with the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal.
Kratom For Opioid Addiction
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) can be used in the same way for treating opioid addiction as medications like methadone and buprenorphine. It’s a substitution therapy to swap the person over from using the opiate to kratom — which is significantly easier to wean off.
During the detox process, kratom is used as a substitute to relieve symptoms of withdrawal and make it easier for people to stick to the detox plan and avoid the cravings to take more of the drug.
It can take several weeks or months to wean off opiates completely. Some people choose to do it cold-turkey, stopping all intake of the drug — others prefer to wean off the drug gradually while slowly increasing the dose of kratom.
Kratom is not a perfect solution, but it can go a long way in alleviating the most uncomfortable parts of opioid withdrawal — especially in the first few days or weeks.
Learn more about how to use kratom to ease opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Counseling for Opioid Addiction
Counseling can help one quit using opioids with a variety of different methods. It can change an individual’s attitude and behaviors relating to drug use and help you build healthy, valuable life skills.
A recovering addict in treatment will be given individualized therapy, including setting personal goals, talking about setbacks, and celebrating progress in a personal, more confidential environment.
Group counseling is also common in treating opioid addiction; this type of therapy can help you feel understood and supported by others facing the same challenges.
Family counseling is also sometimes used to treat addiction issues. This includes partners, spouses, and other loved ones who are close to you and want to see you regain control of your life. They can offer you much-needed support and understanding, and these therapy sessions are designed to improve relationships and repair the ones that need to be repaired.
Drug counseling is generally considered a life-long endeavor, as opioid addiction never completely disappears. Most recovering addicts will deal with their addiction for the rest of their lives, although counseling, along with other methods, can make the process significantly easier.
Residential & Hospital-based Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Residential programs will combine housing with other recovering addicts along with structured addiction treatment care. You’ll be living with others who face the same difficulties and challenges that you are facing, and the goal is to support and encourage each other to stay in recovery and progress.
Hospital-based treatment programs, also known as inpatient treatment, combine health care and addiction treatment services for high-risk patients or those with other medical conditions and issues.
Both of these programs include several different kinds of behavioral therapies and counseling, and sometimes medication if it is required. These are very strict treatment options for addicts who need to be held accountable and closely monitored.
- Overdose Deaths Accelerating During COVID-19 | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC
- NCDAS: Substance Abuse and Addiction Statistics  (drugabusestatistics.org)
- Heroin Overdose Data | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center
- Nationwide Study Shows Continued Rise in Opioid Affected Births | HHS.gov
- Fact check: Which killed more people in a day, heroin or coronavirus? (usatoday.com)