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Future Health

Opioids and Addiction

September 9, 2020 

An opioid is a synthetic version of an opiate (pain relievers derived from the opium plant such as morphine). Recently though, "opioid" is used as an umbrella term for both opioids and opiates. Medically, opioids are strong pain medicines such as oxycodone that are prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe acute and chronic pain and fentanyl used mostly with advanced cancer pain.

When prescribed appropriately, opioids are effective in managing pain but when misused or abused they can cause addiction, overdose and even death. Opioids, such as OxyContin and Percocet, were being marketed as useful pain management medications without causing addiction. They were miracle drugs helping many patients suffering from acute and chronic pain. The underestimation of the addictive nature of these drugs combined with the growing acceptance of a "no pain" medical environment resulted in the increased amount of prescription opioids prescribed to patients.

The number of people dying from drug overdoses has more than quadrupled since the early 2000s.  Addiction is a disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite the harmful consequences to the brain, body, and other aspects of the individual's life. Like other diseases, addiction does not discriminate. It affects all races, genders, ages, and socioeconomic brackets and reaches into all communities large and small, urban to suburban. Over time, opioid users develop an increasing tolerance of the drug. The higher the tolerance the greater the amount required to achieve the desired euphoric state. At its worst, users walk a thin line between taking a large enough dose to achieve a "high" and taking too much that it results in an overdose. When someone overdoses on an opioid, they do not die immediately. They can be helped if basic life support and naloxone is administered soon after the overdose is suspected. Naloxone, sold under the name Narcan, works by reversing the effects of opioids on the central nervous and respiratory systems.

Many cities and counties are working to strengthen their collaboration with state, federal, private-sector and non-profit agencies to tackle the opioid crisis. Massachusetts, for example, is one of many states that have implemented projects to reduce the number of overdoses and provide grant money to assist community efforts.  There are three major options for opiate treatment including: detox, inpatient rehabilitation, and outpatient therapy.

  • Detox involves withdrawing from the drug at an inpatient facility. Medical staff oversees withdrawal and may prescribe medication such as Methadone, Vistaril, Clonidine, or buprenorphine.
  • Rehab in either a residential program or on an outpatient therapy basis is the next step. Programs are typically 30 to 90 days and focus on activities that promote recovery, assist patients in uncovering triggers that led to addiction and teach effective coping skills. Evidence has shown that the longer a person remains in treatment, the better their chances are of long-term recovery.
  • For someone in recovery from opiate use disorder, a sober living facility provides a safe and supportive environment to build a sober life. Others may only need a peer support group such as Narcotics Anonymous.

If you or someone you know suffers from an addiction there are many resources available. Click here for more information about drug addiction treatments and locations. Remember if you are unsure you can always consult your physician.