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 intentions 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 of course, 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.
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. Drug overdoses are one of the leading accidental deaths in the United States, and 38% of all overdose deaths are attributed to painkillers.
Symptoms of overdose include:
- Pin-point or constricted pupils
- Limp body
- Restricted breathing
- Cold or clammy skin
- Extreme lethargy or sleepiness
- Loss of consciousness
- Constricted pupils
- Chest pain
- Extreme agitation
- 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 due to an opioid drug overdose between June 1, 2019, and May 31, 2020 (this is 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. Prescription opioids attributed to over 28% of all opioid-related deaths in 2019
7. 51.3% of individuals who obtain illegal pain meds get them from a friend or family member
8. Opioids caused the death of approximately 46,802 people in 2018
9. Between 1999-2017, almost 400,000 Americans died from their addiction to opioids
10. Just in 2017, 47,600 opioid-related overdoses resulted in death
11. Between 20-30% of people who take prescription painkillers misuse them
12. Approximately 10% of individuals who abuse prescription opioids end up addicted to them
13. Around 2.1 million Americans are thought to have an opioid use disorder
14. 5% of those who have an opioid disorder will end up trying heroin
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 end up becoming addicted
5. In 2017, over 15,000 Americans lost their lives to heroin overdose
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 (Mytragina 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 who are facing the same challenges as you.
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.
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)