Opioid and Heroin Addiction

Opioids can be prescription medications — often referred to as painkillers — or they can be illicit, or so-called street drugs, such as heroin.

Opioids are a powerful and extremely dangerous class of drug; they are often the leading cause of any fatal drug overdose. Withdrawal from any form of opioids or heroin can be especially painful and uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally. Opioids and heroin addiction have become and epidemic. It is best to detox from opioids or heroin under the supervision of a medical professional or healthcare facility that can adequately address the physical discomfort and any medical issues that may arise from withdrawal.

Opioids are a class of drug naturally found in the opium poppy plant and that work in the brain to produce a variety of effects, including the relief of pain. Many prescription opioids are used to block pain signals between the brain and the body and are typically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Some examples of prescription opioids are Vicodin, Hydrocodone, Percocet, Oxycodone, OxyContin, morphine, codeine, methadone, and fentanyl. Heroin and opium are examples of illicit opioids. The current opioid epidemic — and overall addiction epidemic — results from both legal and illegal (or perhaps better described as “prescribed” and “unprescribed”) use and misuse of opioids.

Opioids are highly addictive: they can make a person’s brain and body believe the drug is necessary for survival. As a person’s brain and body learn to tolerate the prescribed dose or normal usage amount, they may find that they need even more of the substance to achieve the same effect (relieve pain, get high) or even to achieve a sense of well-being or normalcy, which can lead to physical dependence. Opioids also impact the pleasure centers in the brain, making it difficult to find pleasure or comfort without the use of the drug.

Every person is different and has a different genetic makeup. For some, physical dependency — which often leads to full blown addiction — can occur after taking opioids for only a short period of time, sometimes just days or weeks.

In terms of the current opioid epidemic, a number of factors contributed to where we currently find ourselves.

In 1996, the American Pain Society (APS) instituted “pain as the fifth vital sign,” in an effort to reduce the under-assessment and inadequate treatment of pain for patients. Then in 2001, the Joint Commission (formerly The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, or JCAHO), the national accreditation for hospital and healthcare systems, introduced new national standards for organizations to improve their care for patients with pain. These standards include using pain as the fifth vital sign. Hospitals, who often receive accreditation marks and funding based on patient surveys, reacted to these new standards, and thus the prescribing of opioids increased.

In the 1990s, Purdue Pharma began making and marketing the powerful opioid OxyContin. Through litigation and the release of internal documents, we now know that Purdue Pharma made a consolidated push to market OxyContin as “safe” and “non-addicting,” which is clearly inaccurate.

In this perfect storm, prescriptions of OxyContin and other opioids skyrocketed. Pain clinics cropped up nationwide, handing out prescriptions like candy and flooding the United States with powerful, addictive and dangerous opioids. This created the earliest stage of our current opioid and heroin addiction epidemic. Innovo understands the power of opioid and heroin addiction and the importance of safe and healthy detoxification.

Here are some numbers related to our current opioid epidemic:

  • In 2016, opioid overdoses caused more than 42,000 deaths. In 2017, opioid overdoses caused more than 70,200 deaths.
  • From 1999 to 2017, more than 700,000 people have died from a drug overdose.
  • In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (both prescription and illegal) was six times higher than in 1999.
  • On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
  • Prescription opioid volumes peaked in 2011, with the equivalent of 240 billion milligrams of morphine prescribed. The volume declined by 29% in 2017, based on more education of physicians and the public, awareness of the opioid crisis, and prescription monitoring programs in numerous states.
  • About 11.4 million Americans misused opioids in 2017, including 11.1 million prescription misusers and 886,000 heroin users.
  • In 2017, healthcare providers across the U.S. wrote more than 191 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication — a rate of 58.7 prescriptions per 100 people.
  • Despite guidelines to limit opioids as a first approach to managing most chronic pain, a study found that primary care clinicians wrote 45% of all opioid prescriptions in the United States.
  • Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency rooms or emergency departments nationwide for misusing prescription opioids.
  • In 2017, prescription opioids were involved in more than 35% of all opioid overdose deaths: nearly 17,000.
  • The CDC estimates the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the U.S. is $78.5 billion a year, including health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. This is just the economic impact of prescription opioid misuse — it does not account for the economic impact of illicit opioids and other substance misuse.

Opioid & Heroin Addiction

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