Opioid drug abuse
People who abuse prescription opioid medications and illegal drugs such as heroin are at risk of serious health consequences, physical dependence, fatal drug overdoses, addiction and even death. Prescription opioid medications and heroin are addictive drugs that can quickly result in tolerance and physical dependence, and opioid users often increase their doses over time to achieve the desired effect of the drug. People who take increasingly higher doses of opioids greatly increase their risk of a drug overdose, which can be fatal.
People who abuse opioids, particularly those who are intravenous heroin users, may experience an initial “rush” followed by alternating states of drowsiness and wakefulness, known as “on the nod.” Following are some of the other side effects of opioid drug abuse.
- Absence of pain (analgesia)
- Dry mouth
- Reduced perception of pain
- Feeling of heaviness in extremities
- Clouded thinking
- Slowed breathing
- Small pupils
- Flushed skin
- Slurred speech
- Poor judgment
Opioid Abuse: Health consequences
Over time, opioid drug abuse can contribute to a number of negative health effects. Intravenous heroin users are at a particularly high risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections such as hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Following are some of the other long-term effects of opioid drug abuse.
- Increased pain sensitivity (hyperalgesia)
- Physical dependence
- Collapsed veins
- Clogged blood vessels
- Infections of heart valves
- Gastrointestinal cramping
- Liver or kidney disease
- Lung damage
- Slowed breathing rate
- Risk of choking
- Pulmonary complications (e.g., pneumonia)
- Spontaneous abortions
- Compromised immune system
- Fatal overdoses
- Permanent brain damage
Opioids are the most common drugs that lead to overdose. People who overdose due to opioids can experience suppressed breathing, hypoxia (lack of oxygen reaching the brain), coma, and permanent brain damage.
Opioid Abuse: Withdrawal symptoms
Opioid abuse can greatly increase the risk of becoming physically dependent on the drug and experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if the user reduces or stops using the opioids. People who develop a physical dependence on the drug are more likely to overdose and develop an addiction. For this reason, opiate detox centers should offer 24-hour medical monitoring and opioid detox treatment in addition to other evidence-based treatments for treating patients with opioid use disorders.
Patients in opiate rehab programs are generally weaned off, as the withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous. Some withdrawal symptoms include sleep problems (e.g., insomnia), agitation, anxiety, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea and tremors. In addition to a medically-assisted detox program, withdrawal symptoms can be effectively managed by gradually reducing the drug quantity until the drug is no longer required.
Opioid addiction is also referred to as an opioid use disorder. Opioid use disorders are characterized by compulsive drug use, an uncontrollable urge to use the drug, and continuing to take the opioids despite negative consequences that result (e.g., legal, health, financial etc.).
Opioid misuse includes the misuse of prescription opioid pain relievers or the use of heroin. In 2016, an estimated 11.8 million people (aged 12 years or above) misused opioids in the past year, including 11.5 million pain reliever misusers and 948,000 heroin users. A serious national crisis, opioid overdose claims more than 90 American lives every day with additional social and economic consequences. Depending on the amount, frequency, and duration of drug abuse, a comprehensive treatment for opioid abuse combines medically-supervised detoxification treatment along with behavioral therapies and recovery management program.