Opioids are drugs used primarily to treat pain. The term is generally used to describe all substances that attach to the opioid receptor in the brain. These substances are available by prescription only, and an individual can be fined or imprisoned for carrying these drugs without a prescription. Opioids are created legally and illegally. Legal forms of the drug come in the form of prescription pain killers, like morphine or OxyContin. An illegal form of this drug can be street heroin and counterfeit pills created to look like perception drugs. Opioids can be naturally occurring, semi-synthetic, or synthetic. Natural forms of opioids are derived from the opium poppy plant. Semi-synthetic opioids are created by altering the chemical structure of the naturally occurring drug. Synthetic opioids are made from chemicals and mimic the properties of the naturally occurring substance.
What Do Opioids Look Like?
There are different kinds of opioids, and they all look different, but here are some examples.
HEROIN AND FENTANYL PILLS
Effects of Opioids
Opioids can create a myriad of effects on an individual who takes them. The main reason opioids can become addicting is that they provide a euphoric feeling to its user. Though this may be a contributing factor to its abuse, there are other effects of this drug.
Individuals can experience:
- Nodding Out
There are also effects opioids can have when mixed with other drugs such as alcohol and benzodiazepines. These effects include but are not limited to:
- Slowed breathing
- Decreased heart rate
- Risk of death
Taking too many opioids can lead to an extremely life-threatening overdose. Opioids affect the part of the brain that handles breathing, and when you take too many opioids, it makes it difficult for your body to regulate its breathing. Anyone who uses opioids is at risk for overdose. Street drug users are at specifically high risk because of the inconsistency of the drugs they take, but even those using medications as prescribed can be affected. An increased dose of opioids, even if prescribed by a doctor, may lead to an unexpected overdose. Some overdoses can manifest themselves due to mixing your medication with alcohol or other medicines. It is essential to understand the signs of an overdose so that you can help someone who may be experiencing one. If handle quickly, the tragedy of an overdose death can be avoided.
Symptoms of an overdose include the following:
- Slow or No Breathing
- Choking or throwing up
- Gurgling Sounds
- Blue Lips or Nails
- Cold and Clammy Skin
If you observe any of these, call 911 and seek emergency assistance.
Anyone using opioids, whether it be legally or illegally, should have access to Naloxone. Naloxone is a medication used to reverse an opioid overdose's effects and can be the difference between life and death. It is common for pharmacies and community organizations to offer free access to this drug. It is highly encouraged that anyone using or around some who does use opioids to acquire a naloxone kit.
As someone continues to use opioids, two things happened. The first is that a person builds a tolerance to the drug. This means a person must take more of the drug to experience the same feeling as the initial therapeutic dose. The second is a person becomes physically dependent on the drug. This means that the body needs a specific amount of the drug to prevent withdrawal symptoms from occurring. While these phenomena don't guarantee someone will become a drug abuser, both contribute to the cycle of addiction.
According to an article published by the British Journal of Pharmacology, opioid tolerance is characterized by reduced responsiveness to an opioid agonist. It is handled by increasing the amount of opioids to achieve the desired effect. Tolerance to opioids occurs gradually and may cause an individual to start using more drugs to get the desired result. The article mentioned above notes that it is not uncommon for doses to be increased 10-fold.
It's important to note that tolerance isn't caused by drug abuse and occurs naturally as you take the same amount of the drug. Many individuals prescribed opioids for pain management are gradually increased in dose, and this same phenomenon occurs when individuals use opioids on the street. Those who illegally use opioids also experience tolerance. Unfortunately, these individuals do not have a medical professional overseeing them, and they tend to increase amounts at a faster rate.
Physical dependence is similar to tolerance in that it happens over time. According to an article published in the European Journal of Pain, physical dependence is a drug-class-specific withdrawal syndrome produced by sudden cessation or rapid dose reduction. It is essential to distinguish that physical dependence and addiction can coincide, but dependence does not always mean someone is addicted.
Understanding tolerance and physical dependence are necessary to understand how the cycle of addiction works. These things not only create the need for opioids, but they also have the propensity to perpetuate the amount and use of those who are using them.
Efforts to overcome tolerance and avoid the withdrawal caused by physical dependence can lead to addictive behaviour. For those already entrenched in the cycle of addiction, the tolerance an individual has built up, and the fear of withdrawal can be a motivating factor to unsavoury activities.
When an individual puts the need for opioids above other things in their life, they can be considered to have an addiction. Many individuals who start to ignore their responsibilities to ensure they can get drugs are no longer in control. This lack of control can happen to anyone who starts down the road of taking these strong medications. The nature of opioids and how it affects the body has led to an epidemic in Canada.
The Opioid Epidemic Perpetuates Itself
In recent years there has been a crackdown on prescribing opioids. Though this initiative was created to prevent opioid abuse, there has been an unforeseen consequence. According to an article by Healthy Debate, many individuals who have been prescribed opioids have been cut back too much and too quickly. This has caused some issues with opioids in Canada.
Knowing what we know about tolerance and physical dependence, it is reasonable to believe that individuals who are not adequately taken off opioids could be at risk to seek drugs elsewhere. And this is precisely what is happening. According to the article mentioned above, many who are cut off from opioids seek the underground narcotics market. This leads to the risk of consuming deadly counterfeit medications or addictive drugs.
When it comes to treating Opioid addiction, long-term and inpatient treatment are the best options. It is crucial to get professional when facing an opioid addiction because issues can arise when withdrawing from opioids.
Withdrawal symptoms from Opioids include the following:
If not appropriately managed, withdrawal from opiates can even lead to death. This usually occurs from persistent vomiting and diarrhea because gone untreated; it can lead to larger issues, including the following:
- Hypernatremia (elevated blood sodium level)
- Heart Failure
With professional help, one can get through the withdrawal associated with opioid abuse.
After a successful withdrawal, it is essential to handle the mental, emotional, and behavioural aspects of addiction. Though a tough withdrawal may seem like enough reason to stay away from opiates, there is usually an underlying issue that leads an individual to get addicted to opioids.
Sometimes this issue is health-related, and it is not uncommon for an individual who was put on pain medication to have to go through rehabilitation because their drug use got out of control. Tolerance and physical dependence can lead individuals to take more drugs than prescribed.
Once this occurs, an individual can be at risk if they attempt to go back on the same drugs to manage their pain after treatment. Knowing this, some treatment helps individuals find alternatives to help them manage pain.
Other instances of drug abuse can stem from a person's inability to handle and control their lives. When this the case, an individual regularly uses drugs to escape from reality. While this may seem like a more straightforward thing to handle because there is no physical issue with the patient, it is not.
Behavioural issues that originate from a person's inabilities to handle life can be challenging to pinpoint and resolve. That is another reason why professional help is always the best option for opioid abuse.
After treatment, an individual should partake in aftercare to reinforce what they learned in rehabilitation. When a person returns home from treatment, they are no longer surrounded by professionals, and there may be environmental triggers that make it difficult for the person. By staying connected to a network of care, individuals have a better chance to remain drug-free because the initial transition back to their lives can be difficult.
- From 2016 to early 2020, 72% of opioid overdose deaths involved only non-pharmaceutical opioids
- The rate of emergency department visits for opioid poisoning was up 73% in Ontario and 23% in Alberta between 2016 and 2017
- 17 Canadians were hospitalized daily for opioid poisoning in 2017
- Only 28% of Canadians agree that they would recognize the signs of an opioid overdose.
- 3 in 10 Canadians over the age of 18 reported using some form of Opioid.