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The Hidden Dangers of Prescription Opioids and How to Seek Help

Q: Can you explain more about opiates and opioid dependency? 

A: Prescription opioids can be prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain but can also have serious risks and side effects. Common prescription opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and methadone. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever used for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. Heroin is an illegal opioid.

Opioid misuse is defined as taking a prescription in higher amounts or longer than recommended by a physician, using someone else’s prescription, or using opioids to get high. Studies show that approximately 25% of individuals who misuse opioids become physically dependent.

Opioid dependence is defined as withdrawal when an individual stops taking an opioid. Opioid dependence may occur when opioids are taken for too long a period or are overtaken. People develop a tolerance for opioids and need to take more of a drug to get the same pain relief or prevent withdrawal symptoms. Studies have shown that even at low doses, taking an opioid pain reliever for more than 3 months increases the risk of addiction by 15 times.

There are several negative consequences that can occur with opioid misuse or dependence. If you are pregnant, your baby, like you, can become dependent on opioids and go through withdrawal symptoms even if the opioid is prescribed for you. Other problems include, but are not limited to:

  • Tolerance—you might need to take more of the medication for the same pain relief
  • Physical dependence—you have symptoms of withdrawal when the medication is stopped

Withdrawal from opioids is painful but usually not life-threatening. Early withdrawal symptoms include agitation, anxiety, muscle aches, increased tearing, insomnia, runny nose, sweating, and yawning. Late withdrawal symptoms include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, dilated pupils, goosebumps, nausea, and vomiting.

Overdose—you can stop breathing and die when you take too many opioids or combine opioids with other drugs.

Who is affected by opioid dependence?

Opioid dependence affects people in all economic groups. Approximately half (54%) of individuals dependent on opioids live in poverty.

Opiate dependency impacts individuals and families in several ways, including:

  • Increased drug overdose deaths
  • Loss of stable living situation
  • Increased number of parents unable to care for their children
  • Decreased job opportunities
  • Increased health care costs
  • Increased involvement with the criminal justice system

What is the treatment for opioid dependence or abuse?

Substance abuse programs:

  • Outpatient, residential, and detoxification
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Office-based opiate treatment facilities
  • Methadone treatment programs

Recovery support services may also include:

  • Transitional housing or sober living
  • Pastoral or spiritual support
  • 12-step support
  • Recovery skills training
  • Employment assistance

The courts can assist individuals involved in the criminal justice system to access treatment and recovery services by mandating the addict to addiction treatment or recovery court programs.

If you have any questions regarding opiates, treatment, or other substance abuse related questions, please feel free to reach out to Hill Recovery at 951-719-3685 or Hill Recovery serves the Temecula and Murrieta communities.