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15 Things Doctors Won’t Tell You about Prescription Opiates

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Opiate addiction is quickly becoming a world-wide epidemic, with more than 30 million people struggling with addiction issues.  Since the early 1900’s, opiates have been prescribed as a kind of miracle elixir, treating everything from pain to depression.  Initially, the medical community was woefully ignorant about the seriously addictive properties of opiates.  However, hundreds of conclusive studies have revealed some basic, startling truths about prescription opiates.

1. It takes only two weeks to become addicted to opiates.

Even if taken exactly as prescribed, a patient will become addicted to opiates.  Opiates create drug liking and drug craving, making quitting difficult.  Using opiates should be a last resort instead of a first option.

2. Opiates cause permanent changes in the brain.

Opiates attach to receptors in the brain.  These receptors work by heightening the reward centers of the brain.  By alleviating pain and reinforcing the “feel good” centers in the brain, processes become skewed, and gradually the brain is unable to differentiate when pain messages should be sent to signal a disorder of the body.

3. Opiates offer no real treatment with regard to the cause of pain.

Because of the manner in which opiates bind to receptors in the brain, pain signals are “masked”.  Essentially, the brain is tricked into turning off the signals that indicate disease in the body.  Pain signals are nature’s way of telling a person something is wrong.

4. Habitually using opiates creates misfiring of signals in the brain.

When patients use or abuse opiates, the brain’s pain and pleasure receptors become confused.  Patients suffering from real ailments begin experiencing excessive pain signals.  This is the brain’s way of seeking the chemical upon which it has developed a dependence to regulate itself.

5. The body and the brain develop a tolerance to opiates.

Prescription Opiates

Opiates only mask the pain, they don’t actually treat it.

Tolerance means the body adjusts to the dosage of drug.  More of the drug is needed to acquire the same results.  As a result, patients often begin taking more opiates than prescribed, abusing the drugs.

6. Taking more than prescribed creates a significant risk of overdose.

In the quest to relieve pain, patients often play with dosages, taking much more medication than that prescribed.  Further, because opiates cause euphoria, drowsiness and a lack of mental clarity, it is easy for patients to lose track of how much medication has been taken over a period of time.  This leads to great risk of overdose.

7. Patients often change the method of taking opiates to increase the effect.

Once patients teeter into the world of tolerance, dependence and addiction, they often change the method of taking the drugs.  Instead of merely taking a pill, patients have been known to melt it under the tongue, crush and snort it or crush it and heat it into a liquid for injection.

8. Opiates affect the body in different ways, as well.

For some patients using opiates, they may experience physical changes, as well as mental changes.  Organ systems are slower and work less efficiently.  Constipation and skin issues are common for people using opiates.

9. Irritability and mood swings can also result from opiate abuse.

Patients using opiates often experience mood swings, anger outbursts and general malaise.  Because natural chemicals are stifled or overproduced, the brain lacks self-regulation.  Opiate abusers experience difficulty regulating their moods.

10. Many opiate users begin using other chemicals too.

In the world of addiction, chasing the ultimate high becomes an obsession.  To combat the fogginess caused by opiates, drug abusers may choose to take stimulant drugs.  Sometimes different depressants are also ingested to intensify the opiate’s effects.

11. Opiate addiction and substance use disorder can affect anyone.

People from all walks of life struggle with addiction.  Drugs, including opiates, are no respecter of race, religion, social status or creed.  Doctors, teachers and priests have all reported suffering with addiction.

12. Quitting opiates will result in withdrawal symptoms.

Depending on the individual, the type of opiate abused, and length of time the substance abuse has continued, withdrawal symptoms will result to varying degrees.  Managing withdrawal is difficult.  The body experiences significant ailments during withdrawal.

13. Opiate withdrawal affects a variety of body systems.

Opiate withdrawal causes flu-like symptoms, nausea, irritability and other physical ailments.  With significant addiction, patients may need to taper their dosage to quit.  Further, some opiates require the prescription of other drugs for maintenance when beginning recovery.

14. Treatment can be necessary to recover from opiate addiction.

Medical professionals specializing in addiction can assess if inpatient or outpatient treatment is necessary to combat opiate addiction.  The relapse rate is rather high for patients trying to stop using opiates.  Quitting can take longer than initially expected.

15. It is possible to recover from opiate addiction.

Addiction is an illness in and of itself.  It is possible to stop using opiates with appropriate treatment.  Treatment for opiate addiction must be individualized to optimize recovery.

Resources

Fowler, J., Volkow, N., Kassed, C. & Chang, N. (2007). Imaging the addicted human brain. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice. 3(2). 4-16. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851068/

Kosten, T. & George, T. (2002). The neurobiology of opioid dependence:  Implications for treatment.  Addiction Science & Clinical Practice. 1(1). 13-20. Retrieved from:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851054/

NIH.  (2012). Principles of drug addiction treatment:  A research-based guide (3rd edition). National Institute on Drug Abuse.  Retrieved from:  https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

NIH. (2016). Misuse of prescription drugs. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/opioids/what-are-possible-consequences-opioid-use-abuse

Volkow, N. (2012). America’s addiction to opioids:  Heroin and prescription drug abuse. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse

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