Still very much a critical public health issue, opioids were involved in more than two-thirds of the 100,000 fatal overdoses reported by the CDC from April 2020 to April 2021. This was a 30% increase in overdose deaths from the prior year.
And, in the U.S., the National Institutes of Health estimate a $78.5 billion yearly economic burden from opioid misuse alone—including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.
What is considered an opioid?
Think of “opioid” as an umbrella term that includes drugs derived from or based on the poppy plant that fall under three categories: natural (produced by nature without any human intervention), synthetic (created with man-made chemicals) or semi-synthetic (made with natural and synthetic components). These drugs interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain, decreasing the intensity of pain signals and feelings of pain. (The term “opioids” is sometimes incorrectly used interchangeable with the term “opiates.” However, opiates strictly refer to natural opioids such as heroin.) Common opioids include:
- Fentanyl (Sublimaze, Actiq)
- Hydrocodone(Vicodin, Lortab)
- Oxycodone(OxyContin, Percocet)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
Why are opioids so addictive?
Opioids trigger feelings of relaxation as well as a state of euphoria. Users then continue to seek these desired effects with repeated use. However, when opioids are used repeatedly over time, the body develops a tolerance—causing the desirable effects to steadily decrease in intensity. With chronic opioid use, the body struggles to produce natural neurotransmitters because it has instead become dependent on the opioids to produce them. Opioid users then feel the need to take these drugs “just to feel normal.”
Over time, increased use of prescription opioid painkillers has resulted in widespread misuse. As the prescription opioid problem became clear, these drugs became more difficult to obtain—leading many to choose heroin instead (which had become less expensive and more widely available).
What are the risk factors for opioid addiction?
The causes of substance use disorders are complex and can include a combination of genetic, environmental and behavioral factors. Though no person is “immune” to developing a substance use disorder, certain risk factors have been shown to increase the likelihood of opioid addiction, including personal or family history of substance abuse, untreated psychiatric disorders and younger age.
If you or a loved one need treatment for opioid addiction, First Step Recovery can help. Contact us today!