April 18, 2024
Opioid Use Disorder

The Dark Side of Painkillers: Understanding Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid use disorder, previously known as opioid addiction or opioid dependence, is a chronic brain disease caused by prolonged opioid use. Opioids are a class of drug that include prescription pain relievers like morphine, codeine, oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), fentanyl, and others. Opioids work by binding to specific receptors in your brain and body that relieve pain. However, they also induce euphoric effects that can lead to misuse and addiction over time.

Opioid use disorder develops when a person’s normal use of an opioid medication transitions into a pattern of compulsive drug taking despite harmful consequences. Those with Opioid Use Disorder often continue using opioids even when it interferes with their home, work or social obligations. They may also increase their dosage or use without a doctor’s guidance. Physical dependence and withdrawal also factor into OUD as stopping opioids abruptly leads to painful symptoms that drive continuous use to avoid feeling sick.

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Use Disorder

Some key signs and symptoms that indicate a person may be struggling with OUD include:

– Taking larger amounts of opioids or taking them over a longer period than was originally intended.

– Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control opioid use.

– Spending a lot of time obtaining, using or recovering from the effects of opioids.

– Craving opioids or experiencing withdrawal when they are not present. Withdrawal symptoms include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting and cold flashes.

– Failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home due to opioid use.

– Ongoing opioid use despite social or interpersonal problems caused by or made worse by their effects.

– Giving up or reducing social, occupational or recreational activities because of opioid use.

– Recurrent opioid use in physically hazardous situations like driving under the influence of opioids.

– Continued use despite being aware of persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems likely caused or exacerbated by opioids.

Causes of Opioid Use Disorder

While anyone using opioids can potentially develop Opioid Use Disorder, certain risk factors can heighten the chances including:

– Genetics: People with a family history of addiction are more likely to experience substance use disorders themselves. Inherited traits may influence how the brain responds to certain drugs.

– Exposure: The more prescription or illicit opioids a person takes, the greater the risk of misuse, abuse and addiction. Long-term opioid therapy also raises the risk.

– Mental health issues: Those with underlying conditions like depression, anxiety or PTSD are at heightened risk as they may use drugs to self-medicate.

– Social factors: Factors like poverty, unemployment, lack of social support and stress all predict higher rates of substance use disorders.

– Medical conditions: Patients in chronic pain may be over-prescribed or continue using opioids even after their condition resolves. This leads to physical dependence.

Treatment Options for Opioid Use Disorder

No single treatment is right for everyone but an integrated treatment plan that combines therapy and medications is very effective. Treatment options include:

– Medication-assisted therapy: Medications like methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone help reduce or block opioid cravings and withdrawal. They are taken long-term.

– Counseling and behavioral therapies: Cognitive behavioral therapy addresses triggers, relapse and coping strategies, while contingency management uses rewards to reinforce treatment goals.

– Residential or inpatient treatment: For more severe cases, long-term live-in rehabilitation provides 24/7 monitoring and care in a therapeutic setting.

– Peer support groups: Fellowship programs reinforce recovery through contact with others with shared experiences in staying drug-free.

– Holistic therapies: Complementary approaches like yoga, acupuncture or massage therapy can manage stress and promote wellness during treatment.

– Long-term aftercare: Even after completing formal treatment, structured care and relapse prevention strategies are vital to sustain recovery.

The Opioid Crisis: A Growing Epidemic

While doctors initially prescribed opioids to relieve suffering, decades of over prescription have created a public health disaster. The crisis is fueled by four overlapping waves unfolding at different periods:

– Increased prescribing of opioids in the 1990s led to widespread misuse, addiction and overdose deaths, marking the first wave.

– In the 2000s, more accessible heroin became the drug of choice among some newly addicted to prescription painkillers in the second wave.

– The third wave was ignited by the surge of potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl which have overwhelmed parts of the U.S. and Canada.

– Finally, the fourth wave includes synthetic drugs like fentanyl analogs that are far more lethal and contaminating drug supplies amid the COVID pandemic.

The unprecedented rise in opioid overdoses has strained resources and left thousands of families grieving lost loved ones each year. It is estimated that more than 500,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving prescription and illicit opioids since 2000. Reversing this crisis requires strategic action on multiple fronts. Governments and healthcare systems are promoting prevention, expanding access to treatments, supporting harm reduction, and cracking down on criminal networks to curb the supply. However, reversing the damage will be a long-term socioeconomic challenge with no simple solutions. What started as prescription misuse has ballooned into a complex public health emergency affecting all communities. Understanding the nature and progression of the opioid crisis and opioid use disorder is key to turning the tide.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it