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Pain Pill Addiction

What you need to know about the opioid epidemic.

There’s a massive problem, so do we blame pharmaceutical companies? Back in the 1990s, these companies assured doctors that their patients wouldn’t become dependent on opioid medications. With this reassurance, doctors began prescribing opioid pain relievers in great numbers. Over time, however, more and more people began misusing both non-prescription and prescription opioids.

Finally, the medical community recognized the addictive nature of these powerful drugs. Unfortunately, opioid misuse had to gain the status of an epidemic before changes were made. Lives have been lost and families have fallen apart because of the opioid crisis. And don’t think you are immune. All it takes is a car accident, a doctor’s prescription, and continued physical or mental pain for someone to become addicted.

What are opioid drugs, how are they misused, and is there hope for treatment?

Pain and Pleasure

Opioid drugs work by attaching to receptors in your brain, spinal cord, or other areas in the body. Once there, the opioids block pain signals and trigger the release of dopamine, a hormone that regulates feelings of pleasure and reward (hence, the addictive nature of the drugs).

When taken for a short period of time and as prescribed by a physician, opioids are generally safe. Long-term use or misuse, on the other hand, can lead to dependence, addiction, overdose, or death.

Examples of opioid prescription painkillers include morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and Buprenorphine. Heroine and fentanyl are non-prescription opioid illegal drugs.

Misuse

Drug misuse refers to taking the drug for reasons other than what it was prescribed for, taking someone else’s prescription, or taking more of the drug than was prescribed.

The millions of people who misuse opioid painkillers do so most often to relieve actual physical pain. But people also misuse them to relieve tension, get high or feel good, help them sleep, help them cope with emotions, lessen or intensify the effect of other drugs, experiment to see the effects, or to satisfy an addiction.

The Statistics

It’s estimated that up to 29 percent of those with prescribed opioids misuse them. As many as 8 to 12 percent become dependent or addicted. Out of these, four to six percent go on to develop an addiction to heroin, because it’s cheaper and often easier to acquire. In fact, an estimated 80 percent of heroin users started their addiction with prescription opioid drugs. In the United States alone, more than 115 people die each day from an opioid overdose. These sobering statistics have lead to a serious national public health crisis of epidemic proportions.

Risky Pills

Opioid medications are prescribed to relieve pain. But like other drugs, opioids come with negative side effects including nausea, constipation, drowsiness, confusion, slowed breathing, or euphoria. The slowed breathing results in a lack of oxygen to the brain, which can lead to lasting neurological and psychological effects. An overdose can cause breathing to stop, coma, brain damage, and death.

One reason opioids are so addictive is because of their unpleasant withdrawal symptoms—trouble sleeping, body pain, cold flashes, vomiting, diarrhea, cravings, and leg jerking. To avoid these symptoms, users take more pills, growing their addiction.

Is There Hope?

Treatments are available to help people overcome their addiction to opioid medications. One medication works by reducing cravings and lessening withdrawal symptoms. Another medication prevents the opioid drug from having its normal effect.

Medication is often not enough to beat an addiction. Behavioral therapy is recommended to teach healthy coping skills, maintain accountability with medications, and to help an addict learn to deal with drug triggers.

John Peters Personal Training Fitness Eagan


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