What are Opioids?
Opioids and opiates, also known as narcotics, are a class of drugs derived from the poppy plant. They include street drugs, such as heroin, and a variety of prescription painkillers, including:
- Hydrocodone (such as Vicodin)
- Hydrocodone with acetaminophen
- Oxycodone (such as Oxycontin)
- Oxycodone with acetaminophen
Prescription opioids require a prescription and carry a high potential for addiction, even when used as prescribed. Whether used illegally or with a prescription, all opioid drugs affect the brain in the same way. They work by binding to receptors in the brain and spinal cord to prevent the release of a chemical called GABA, which normally regulates dopamine production. When GABA is blocked, dopamine floods the brain. This combination blocks pain messages to the brain and produces a pleasurable high. Because opioids carry such a strong potential for habit formation, it is critical to take these drugs only when necessary and to follow the doctor’s instructions for timing and dosage.
The Opioid Crisis in America
In recent years, opioid abuse in America has skyrocketed. Since the year 2000, deaths from opioid overdose has tripled; in 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose, and more than 2 million Americans struggled with substance abuse disorders related to prescription painkillers. Clearly, this abuse requires a response as soon as possible in order to prevent more damaged lives and deaths. Here are eight proposed steps to curb this epidemic:
- Save lives by reducing deaths from overdose and infectious disease. Overdose deaths can be prevented by increasing the availability of naloxone, a medication that can prevent death in someone who has overdosed on opioids. Needle exchange programs can limit the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.
- Treat, don’t arrest: allow addicts to ask law enforcement officers for opioid addiction help instead of repeatedly arresting offenders.
- Fund treatment: support Medicaid-funded treatment for opioid addiction recovery.
- Combat stigma: utilize public education campaigns to dispel myths and promote understanding about opioid addiction so that people will feel more comfortable admitting their problems and seeking treatment.
- Support medication-assisted treatment: replacing opioid use with the medically-monitored use of suboxone, methadone, or buprenorphine has been demonstrated to be an effective approach to opiate addiction recovery, yet fewer than one-third of conventional drug treatment centers in America utilize medication-assisted treatment. We should encourage this method of treatment by expanding its availability at federally-funded treatment centers, expanding Medicaid and Medicare coverage, and requiring staff training at federally-funded centers and Veterans Health Administration hospitals.
- Enforce mental health parity: strictly enforce the federal mental health parity laws that require insurers who cover behavioral health to offer the same benefits for mental health and addiction as they do for surgery or medical therapies. As many as 50-70% of people with substance abuse problems also suffer from mental health conditions such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Teach pain management: train doctors in the management of prescription opioids and misuse prevention; sadly, many addicts begin using prescription drugs legitimately but segue into abuse.
- Start prevention education at an early age: begin to educate children as young as seventh-grade, not just as to the risks of drug abuse, but with the decision-making skills for their teenage years and beyond.
Addiction Treatment and Recovery
While challenging, opioid addiction recovery is possible. Addicts must undergo the uncomfortable process of detox and withdrawal, which can be eased through the use of appropriate medications. With therapy and support, addicts can learn to navigate life without substance abuse. If you or someone you love struggles with opioid addiction, our trained staff can help. Call our toll-free number today.