Opioids are a class of drugs that work to relieve pain in the body. Prescription medications make up a good chunk of opioids that are legally circulating in the population. These addictive chemicals are so effective at easing pain that people frequently abuse them to achieve a state of euphoria and relaxation. Prescription medications have played a large role in the opioid crisis, which is said to have triggered the “first wave” in the late 1990s. Opioid drug treatment is usually necessary for individuals to withdraw safely and start recovering from this difficult addiction.
Drawing the Line Between Opioids and Opiates
When you hear someone use the word ‘”opioids,” they are referring to a large group of pain-relieving substances that can be obtained legally through prescription or illegally from street dealers. Opiates are just opioids that come from a source in nature, like a plant. The three main categories of opioids are as follows:
- Natural opiates are derived from the opium poppy, which includes morphine and codeine.
- Semi-synthetic opioids are created in labs from opiate compounds and include heroin. Oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone are examples of opiates that are commonly prescribed for pain.
- Fully synthetic opioids are chemicals that are manufactured and include fentanyl and methadone.
These psychoactive chemicals bind to naturally occurring opioid receptors located throughout the central and peripheral nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. Opioids are given to patients to reduce acute and chronic pain, but they can also induce relaxation, sedation, and euphoria.
Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs
As a result of reassurance from pharmaceutical companies, a prevailing medical view formed in the 1990s that prescription opioids were non-addictive and safe for patients. However, as doctors increasingly prescribed them, it became clear that opioids were at great risk of being abused and could cause opioid use disorder, overdose, and even death.
Today, there are a number of prescription opioids that are abused and contribute significantly to the opioid crisis alongside other illicit substances like heroin. Prescription drugs are of particular concern due to their widespread accessibility, the prevalence of their misprescription, and their promotion in the music industry.
Some examples of commonly abused opioid prescriptions include:
- Demerol (meperidine)
- Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
- Vicodin and Lortab (hydrocodone)
- Oxycotin and Percocet (oxycodone)
- Darvon and Darvocet (propoxyphene)
The Tragedy of the Opioid Crisis
The opioid crisis started in the United States at the end of the 1990s, and since that time, about 500,000 people have died from an overdose involving opioids. Of those deaths, almost half implicate a prescription opioid. Despite widespread knowledge of the crisis and a reduction in the number of opioids being prescribed, opioids are still being prescribed at a high rate of 58 opioid prescriptions for every 100 Americans. More than 17% of Americans had at least one opioid prescription filled in 2017.
The opioid crisis is still ongoing in the U.S. and is tracked by the CDC. Three distinct periods of increase in overdose deaths called ‘waves’ have been observed between the 1990s and 2019. The first wave began in the 1990s, coinciding with the increase in opioids being prescribed by doctors. Overdose deaths involving both natural and semi-synthetic opioids have been increasing since 1999.
The second wave came in 2010, but this time was centered around heroin. Three years later in 2013, a substantial increase in overdose deaths was observed and mainly attributed to illegally produced fentanyl. Fentanyl has created a serious hazard for unsuspecting buyers of heroin, prescription medications like Xanax, and party drugs like cocaine and Ecstacy. Street dealers are lacing drugs with fentanyl to make it more potent, putting buyers in danger of overdose.
Overdose: A Potential Outcome of Drug Abuse
Abusing prescription opioids can result in overdose. An overdose occurs when a person has poisoned themself by taking too much of the drug. If the poisoning is severe enough, overdose can be fatal.
A person’s chances of a fatal overdose are higher when opioid prescriptions are combined with alcohol or other depressants of the central nervous system (this is one of the main problems with drugs like heroin and Xanax being laced with fentanyl). Beware of the following signs that a person may be in need of immediate medical attention:
- Blue lips and skin
- Slowed or arrested breathing
- Lowered pulse and blood pressure
Abuse of prescription medications can also cause a person to build up a tolerance to the drug and develop an opioid use disorder. Addiction is the most severe form of a substance use disorder, putting the individual at perpetual risk of health consequences that could be fatal.
Get Treated for Opioid Use Disorder
If you have found yourself in a dilemma with prescription drugs, don’t be ashamed. Opioid pain relievers are very effective and addictive, causing even the most disciplined person to become vulnerable to its effects. The dangers of ignoring the warning signs and continuing to use are real, and many have died. Please reach out for help as soon as possible.
Prescription opioid medications are highly effective at treating pain. Unfortunately, this class of drugs is prone to abuse, and many have died by overdose. The opioid crisis is a serious public health concern that has claimed the lives of family members and friends around the country. Oceanfront Recovery is a treatment center located in Laguna Beach, California. Our team of clinicians is dedicated to helping clients get clean fast in medical detox, so they can start healing from the damage opioids have caused their bodies and minds. We have residential programs specifically designed for individuals struggling with different types of opioid addiction. These include our Heroin, Opioid, Opiate, and Prescription Addiction Treatment Centers. Whatever concerns you have, we can help. If you have started using your prescription because it makes you feel good, please call us today at (877) 279-1777. We can give you the help you need to get clean.