why are opioids so addictive

Why Are Opioids So Addictive? Here’s How Opioid Addiction Occurs

More than 115 people are dying every single day from this soul-stealing disease.

Let’s break that down.

There are 24 hours in a day. That means nearly five people are dying every single hour.

Every year, the two million people affected, in the U.S. alone, spend approximately $78.5 billion on this disease.

What is this mysterious disease? The culprit is none other than opioid addiction.

“Addiction? That’s not a disease!”

Contrary to the popular belief, addiction is a disease, just like diabetes, cancer, or heart disease. Addiction is defined as, “Addiction involves changes in the functioning of the brain and body. These changes may be brought on by risky substance use or may pre-exist.”

But, why are opioids so addictive? And how do you know when you have a problem?

Read on to answer these questions and find out more on opioid addiction.

Terminology: Opiates vs Opioids

To get things started, let’s go over some basic terminology.

You’ve heard the term opioids, but you’re probably more familiar with the term opiates as well. More than likely, you’ve heard them used interchangeably or incorrectly. But what really is the difference?


Both the terms opiate and opioid are derived from the opium plant. Opiates are the actual chemical substances that are extracted from the opium plant, also known as opium alkaloids. Opiates are natural compounds from the opium plant.

Morphine, Codeine, and Thebaine are the three main opium alkaloids scientist use to synthesize many medical compounds.


Opioids, on the other hand, is a broader term. It refers to any substance that binds with the opium receptors in your body. This substance could be natural or synthetic. So, opioids can be opiates, but opiates can’t be opioids.

In this article, we’re going to focus on opioids because it is a broader term and covers more.

How to Spot an Opioid Addiction

How can you spot an opioid? Are they all dangerous? How can they be taken?

If you suspect your loved one has an opioid addiction, it’s important to learn how to spot it and what danger signs to look out for.

What Does Opioid Addiction Look Like?

A person that is recreationally using opioids might show any of the following signs:

  • High resting heart rate
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased sexual arousal
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Depression

How Are Opioids Taken?

Opioids can be taken orally or through injection. Many medical professionals will prescribe opioids for severe pain, cough, or diarrhea. Doctors will usually prescribe the opioid to be taken orally, however, if you’re in immediate need for pain relief your doctor make give you an injection.

Some abusers may even snort crushed pills, as this allows the opioid to absorb into the bloodstream much faster.

Why Are Opioids So Addictive?

There are two main factors in addiction: physiology and psychology.

The physiology refers to the body’s biological response to synthetic opioid chemicals, where the psychology focusses on behavioral symptoms.

The Physiology

Did you know that your body makes opioids naturally? You have special protein receptors in your brain, spinal cord, and digestive system called opioid receptors. These natural opioids kill pain, slow down breathing, and relax the body.

Opioids like heroin or oxycodone mimic the chemical structure of these natural opioid neurotransmitters and bind to your receptors. This triggers the brain’s reward system and causes dopamine to be released.

Dopamine is responsible for emotion, motivation, body movement, and is a hedonistic hotspot, more often referred to as the “pleasure center”.

The Psychology

A person’s psyche is affected by many factors, the BRA being a major one in addiction. In addition to the BRA affects, we have deeper roots such as dependence and tolerance.


Your brain is absolutely incredible. It has a built-in reward system. The brain reward system, or BRA, is a group of neurons that control what you like and what you want.

Liking something and wanting something are two completely different stimuli.

When you like something, it’s called intrinsic. Intrinsic stimuli are things that you naturally like. For example, food.

Extrinsic, on the other hand, are learned motivated behaviors, or wanting. Money, for example, is just a piece of paper. But through learned association, money now triggers the BRA.

Opioid addiction is an extrinsic stimulus, meaning that a person doesn’t actually like doing drugs, but they have a begging want for them.

The want center, or incentive salience, is responsible for making abusers feel like they need their next fix.

Roots of Addiction

Many abusers don’t want to keep doing these drugs, but they might feel like that have to keep doing them just to feel normal. Things like tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal are big factors in a person’s detox.

Addiction may start out where the user enjoys the euphoric feeling that opioids provide, but it quickly morphs into dependence.

Remember how we said that your body makes a natural opioid neurotransmitter? When the body gets used to receiving the fool chemicals, it actually stops making the natural neurotransmitter. Because of this, users have to continue to take opioids just to feel normal.

The euphoric feeling that once was is now just a dose of “normal” to long-term abusers.

What Makes Opioids Deadly

Opioids kill a person by slowing down the breathing processes. Breathing delivers fresh oxygen and removes poisonous carbon dioxide. When this process becomes too shallow, cells throughout the body begin to die off.

Many of the opioid receptors are found in the brainstem. The medulla and pons are regions inside the brainstem that are responsible for involuntary breathing, they control that rate and depth of breathing. Because the opioids taken are not the exact natural neurotransmitter, the cells react in a different way than normal, causing malfunctions.

Fentanyl, for example, can cause the diaphragm and surrounding muscles to tense up and further restrict breathing. This condition is called wooden chest syndrome.

Other possible causes of death are caused by vomit aspiration or abnormal heart rhythm.

Signs and Symptoms of an Overdose

If you have a loved one that is facing an opioid addiction, there is a possibility that you may one day find them overdosing. While this is a tough truth to hear, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of an overdose so that you can call for the appropriate treatment.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Depressed breathing
  • Uncontrollable vomiting
  • Slow movements

First responders carry a drug called naloxone, which is used in life-threatening overdose situations. Naloxone works by latching onto the opioid receptors and effectively blocking the damaging opioids from continuing to bind. Naloxone works within minutes and may reverse the effects of an overdose if taken in time.

Risk Factors For Addiction

Opioids post the biggest threat when you take them differently than your doctor prescribes. Your risk factor also increases based on the length of time the opioid is taken. The longer the opioid is taken, the higher dependence your body will have formed.

Other known risk factors for addiction include:

When Do Opioids Become a Problem?

Opioids become a problem when a person builds up what is called a tolerance. A tolerance is when the body needs more and more of a substance to create the same effect.

Because of tolerance and dependence, detoxing on your own can actually be a very dangerous process. The body has stopped creating its own opioid neurotransmitters, so when the body all of a sudden stops receiving these chemicals that it’s learned to rely on, it can go into a state of shock. Being in a state of shock can be deadly if not cared for appropriately.

For this reason, it’s important to detox in a certified rehab facility.

How to Detox Safely

Suboxone, for example, can be prescribed in these facilities to aid in successful detox. Suboxone contains two different opioid agonists: buprenorphine and naloxone. We mentioned earlier how naloxone can help, but what is buprenorphine?

buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it only partially blocks the opioid receptors, and partially activates them. This allows the user to be gradually weaned off of the drug, preventing the body from going into shock.

Why isn’t suboxone given out in drugstores?

Just like other opioids, suboxone can be abused. Rehab facilities that prescribe suboxone carefully monitor the recovering addicts and watch for warning signs of abuse.

If you know someone taking suboxone, you should learn the warning signs of misuse as well. The following are a few signs and symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings

Emotional Recovery

During and after a person successfully detoxes from opioids, there are many emotional phases they must go through. These phases are very similar to those a grieving person may go through.


The first emotional recovery phase a person may go through is depression. Depression may be felt during or even before opioid use.

This depression is not to be confused with sadness. Just like addiction, depression is a mind-altering disease.

Clinical depression affects the way a person’s brain chemistry works and directly affects the BRA. This depression may be temporary or, sadly, the person may never recover from it.

A treatment facility may prescribe medication to help curb the depression. Finding an anti-depressant medication is never easy, so you’ll want to leave it up to the professionals.


Anger is the second stage a person may experience. This stage tends to be felt during the beginning to the end of the detox process. The user may feel anger towards friends and family, especially if those loved ones suggested the rehabilitation.

This anger is never personal, as it is a side effect of the BRA. The user’s body is used to receiving a stimulus to the BRA, so when that stimulus stops, well, basically the body throws a chemically induced temper tantrum.

This stage is temporary, as the body is working out the kinks. Let some time go by and this stage will correct itself.


Guilt is often felt after the detoxification process is complete. The user begins to realize the many harmful things that they have said or done to their loved ones. Guilt can be more than overwhelming, so it’s important to be patient.

Therapists will usually suggest apologizing as the first step. The therapist will also inform the ex-addict that not every person will accept the apology.

In some cases, similar to depression, the feeling of guilt will never leave a person – no matter how many times they apologize. For this reason, many rehabilitation facilities will recommend further therapy after detox. This therapy may be a personal therapist or NA meetings.

NA, or narcotics anonymous, meetings are held by many ex-addicts, each of them sharing their stories and recovery tips. Some members of NA groups have been clean for many years, others only days.

Whichever type of therapy is chosen, it’s important to stick to it. Leaving a therapy prematurely can result in a relapse.

Getting Help for Addiction

Now you know the answer to “why are opioids so addictive?” If you or a loved one is experiencing opioid addiction, there is hope.

We have state-to-state centers that offer multiple levels of rehab care, including detoxification, inpatient treatment, partial hospitalization, and outpatient treatment.

Contact our addiction intervention specialists for help in overcoming the disease that addiction really is.

Our addiction specialists are available 24 hours a day to help you or your loved one take the first step into recovery before it’s too late.

How We Got Here: A Brief History of the Opioid Epidemic

America lost 58 thousand soldiers in the Vietnam War according to the National Archives, and 620,000 deaths in the Civil War.

In 2016, there were more than 60,000 deaths caused by drug overdoses in 2016 alone, and in 2017, 200 Americans died per day in the opioid epidemic.

The opioid epidemic that is rocking the nation is now exceeding the cost of lives to America by that of more than two of America’s greatest wars of all time combined. Let’s trace this crisis back to its roots to find out how this crisis began, and then we’ll discuss how you can avoid becoming a statistic in the history of the opioid epidemic.

It started with the overprescription of opioids.

Today, two million Americans abuse opioids.

Nobody is dying alone in the opioid epidemic, even when their addiction has led them to the point of complete isolation from the world they once knew.

First Step on the History of the Opioid Epidemic

Although history shows that opioid use for pain relief has been in place since the Civil War, the real opioid crisis dates back to the 1990’s. They say it is a three-wave problem over the opioid epidemic timeline. For the first time since 1999, the life expectancy for Americans has decreased because of this crisis.

The crisis is due to the overprescription of opioids, but the use of illegal opioids has also increased and contributed to the crisis.

Prescription opioids include substances that include either morphine or codeine. Synthetic forms of opioids are now on the market, however, and include methadone, tramadol, and fentanyl.

Opioid abuse has been in play since the beginning of the last century. Veterans were given morphine, a derivative of the poppy plant, during and after the Civil War.

By the late 1800’s, pharmaceutical companies started to create synthetic versions, and this is when heroin was born.

It was no secret at this time that heroin or other synthetic forms of opium were addictive. By 1912, the United States joined other nations in forming the International Opium Convention. This convention would work to control the opioid market.

In 1924 came the Heroin Act, bringing more regulations to the heroin market. By the time both World Wars were over, heroin abuse was becoming a problem.

The 1924 Heroin Act was a revision of the 1909 Smoking Opium Exclusion Act that authorized poppy plant imports for medical purposes. Even in 1909 American citizens were using a pipe or “vaping” to consume heroin.

By 1924, it was illegal to import or possess heroin.

In 1970, this drug was developed into synthetic drugs of hydrocodone and oxycodone for pain relief and to treat cancer pain. As years went on, an overprescription of these drugs for various diagnoses has led to the opioid epidemic that we face today.

The United States Leads the World

Today, drug abuse is costing America over $442 billion dollars a year in both health care and criminal justice costs. The opioid epidemic comprises $78 billion of that number.

The United States leads the world in opioid use, consuming over 80 percent of the world’s opioid production.

Opioid abuse is America’s leading cause of death for those under the age of 50. More are dying from an opioid overdose in America than the flu or kidney problems, pneumonia, car accidents, or firearm deaths.

The Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy M.D. M.B.A. says that opioid use is more common in America than diabetes and all cancers combined.

10 percent of those who are addicted to opioids are dying because they just don’t get the help they need. They often don’t seek help because they fear the costs or stigma associated with going to rehab.

The stigma of drug addiction is a leading cause of overdose deaths as well. Many users today just don’t want to admit they have a problem that could be criminal. They also may not be able to afford care.

But today, more and more insurance companies are saving lives by covering addiction treatment services. Additionally, addiction treatment services today are working to get rid of the stigma associated with addiction by just focusing on saving lives.

The Science of the Opioid Crisis

The opioid epidemic is all rooted in the science of opioids. Many national agencies refer to the history of the opioid epidemic like a plague.

The science of opioids is all about how they impact the brain. When opioids cross the blood-brain barrier, they hit the pleasure centers in the brain in such a way that the user describes it as a euphoric high.

Chasing the high is the center of every addiction. Opioids bind to receptors in the brain that block pain. When this happens, a chemical addiction occurs.

The addiction is not just chemical. The patient feels good psychologically and wants to keep feeling this good, so they continue to abuse the substance.

But not only is the addiction chemical and psychological, but the body also becomes chemically addicted or dependent on this euphoric feeling.

New research shows that scientists are getting closer to untangling the neural pathways that lead from opioid use to dopamine triggers. Dopamine is the substance in the brain that is released from the pleasure centers that makes the person feel good.

These scientists say that addiction occurs when the effects of consuming a drug provide a beneficial outcome to the human body. A dopamine release is one of those pleasurable outcomes that keep people going back to opioids for more after their first use.

This dopamine release contributes to the dependency on opioids. This even serves as a gateway to abusing more dangerous drugs such as heroin, according to these scientists. Heroin is a drug that many doctors today will say can become addictive upon first use.

But opioids are also dangerous upon first use. While there are thousands of examples world-wide, one harrowing story is the story of a 15-year-old named Sam. He consumed heroin once and went into a coma for two months.

Sam is now in a wheelchair unable to read, write, or live with the quality of life of a typical 15-year-old boy.

The opioid epidemic timeline started over 30 years ago and continues today.

Prescription medication withdrawal and detox led to symptoms so uncomfortable that people began turning to heroin to recover from opioid withdrawal.

How Did We Get Here?

Pharmaceutical companies and the doctors prescribing meds are the roots of this epidemic.

In the 1990’s, drug companies were reassuring the medical community that opioid meds were not addictive. But they were and still are today.

This notion led to a widespread use of the medication and ultimately an abuse and misuse of prescribed meds. By 2015, tens of thousands of Americans were dying from this crisis.

It is estimated that 21 to 29 people prescribed opioid medications will abuse them, and that 8 to 12 percent will develop an addiction. It is also believed that 4 to 6 opioid addicts will transition to heroin addiction once medications like oxycodone and hydrocodone become less readily available.

Due to regulations and more awareness of the opioid crisis, fewer doctors are prescribing them today. This is leading to more dangerous drugs entering the crisis, such as methamphetamines and fentanyl.

Awareness is not to be underestimated, however. Information is power. Many don’t know or understand the gentle and kind support available in many different levels of detox today. This support saves lives.

Wave One – 1991 Opioid Deaths

The opioid crisis is widely considered a three-wave problem. The three waves are defined as the wave where the first rash of deaths first started, followed by an increase in heroin deaths. The final wave is the one the nation is facing now.

Experts consider today’s crisis as first starting in 1991 when opioid-related deaths began after an increase in prescription medication use.

At this time, Big Pharma was reportedly teaching the medical community that it was okay to prescribe opioids as they weren’t addictive. Initially, these medications were only prescribed for chronic or severe pain, such as for cancer or trauma victims.

But those guidelines began to decline once Big Pharma assured doctors that the drugs weren’t addictive. Even today, morphine may be the first drug administered by an EMT or emergency doctor when a patient presents with severe pain.

In this first wave, by 1999, 86 percent of people using opioid medication were using them for non-cancer related pain management.

Wave Two – 2010: Heroin Deaths Increase

The second wave of the opioid epidemic began in 2010 when heroin abuse deaths began rising dramatically. Prescription medications became harder to obtain, and addicts began turning to the streets for their high.

With that, heroin became a popular choice because it was easily available and more affordable than most other medications. By 2013, heroin-related deaths increased by 286 percent.

Because heroin is often injected, use also contributes to illnesses and deaths caused by improper use of intravenous equipment. Along with the rise of heroin-related deaths is the rise of HIV/AIDS, blood problems, infections, and hepatitis B and C.

The increase of these problems is also leading to an increase of the multi-billion-dollar health care burden. There are many costs to the country as a result of this crisis.

Wave Three – 2013: the Arrival of Fentanyl

By 2013, the arrival of fentanyl led to the spike in opioid-related deaths in epidemic proportions. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is used in hospitals in minute doses for extreme pain. Today, it is becoming manufactured illegally and not safely.

The smallest dose of fentanyl can still kill someone when not administered properly. But this drug is becoming easier to obtain that oxycodone or even heroin.

In England alone, fentanyl-related deaths have increased by 27 percent in this third wave of the opioid epidemic.

The overprescription of medications is a leading cause of this crisis. But so too is the affordability of heroin on the streets.

National agencies for health are urging the medical community to follow guidelines for prescribing these medications for pain management.

The Opioid Crisis – What’s Happening Now

Many agencies refer to overprescription in the history of the opioid epidemic as a leading cause. This is a problem that is caused at the level of the doctor’s office but also at the level of the pharmaceutical companies.

Regulations and laws have been passed and continue to be passed to monitor and regulate these industries.

The United States Senate is regulating the ties between lobbyists and drug developers.

But the United States Department of Health and Human Services is still looking to work in the medical community to stop the epidemic. But to many, it feels like they are still just barely holding back a flood of problems.

The National Institute of Health is looking to find safer ways to manage severe and chronic pain.

They are also working to develop new medications that will be non-addictive.

At the same time, the medical community is becoming more supportive in the treatment of addictions. There are many different treatments and support options for drug addiction.

Avoid Becoming a Statistic

The American Journal of Public Health noted author William Cole who wrote a book about cancer pain in 1960. Here he wrote that severe pain such as cancer pain was demoralizing and debilitating, and opioid medications were critical to the quality of life.

But he also said, we must be “loathe” to overprescribe those because the addiction itself “may become a hideous spectacle.”
The history of the opioid epidemic confirms this statement.

And here we are today, in the middle of a crisis that is killing more Americans than the Vietnam War and the Civil War combined. Nobody is alone in this crisis no matter how isolated or alone you may feel.

Find out what resources are available in your state and let us help you or a member of your family start recovery today.

Do You Need Residential Inpatient Rehab for Prescription Painkillers?

Residential Inpatient Prescription Painkiller Addiction Treatment - ATS

Doctors prescribe painkillers to, as the name implies, provide relief from chronic or intense pain after injuries, accidents, and medical procedures. When used incorrectly, opioid painkiller usage can lead to addiction, which results in the need for professional addiction recovery.

Prescription painkiller rehabilitation programs, and specifically prescription drug addiction inpatient treatment offer an individualize aid in recovering from painkiller abuse. Which program is best for a successful recovery in your case depends on many factors.

Phase One: Medically Assisted Opioid Detoxification

A body’s natural ability to eliminate toxins is called detoxification (detox). When speaking of detox in the context of substance abuse treatment, this process includes strategies that supplement the body’s natural processes, primarily by helping manage withdrawal symptoms or adverse reactions to suddenly cease providing the addictive substance to the body.

These strategies require a team of medical professionals who assist the recovering addict through the process. Many detox plans include a combination of daily practices, medicinal aid and participation in support interventions.

The use of medically assisted detox allows recovery patients to stay stable amid the effects caused by withdrawal, and then it becomes clear where he or she should go for the next phase of treatment.

The following phase can take place in an inpatient or outpatient facility, depending on:

  • Withdrawal intensity
  • Quality and quantity of support
  • Previous attempts at detox
  • What kind of living and transportation arrangements the patient has available to them

A more recent development in phase one involves following a rapid approach to detox, prescribing one type of medication that induces withdrawal symptoms more quickly, and another medication to sedate the patient. The hope is this rapid detox gets the person through the worst parts of withdrawal quickly, accelerating their movement into phase two of treatment: rehabilitation centers or addiction treatment programs.

Phase Two: Traditional Rehab Center or Addiction Treatment Program

In this phase, a patient takes part in a drug addiction rehabilitation process that includes several options. Studies divide the options into modalities, and new approaches surface every year.

Currently, these options for prescription painkiller addiction treatment include long-term or short-term inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, individually tailored drug addiction recovery counseling and group counseling.

1) Inpatient Prescription Painkiller Addiction Treatment

Long-term inpatient residential treatment provides care and help 24 hours a day, seven days a week and usually take place in an isolated setting outside of the hospital. The goal is to combine the individual’s care with social encouragement, using the unique community resources as active parts of the treatment plan.

An inpatient treatment program is structured with various types of therapy and activities that are carefully designed to help a patient break down negative thinking or beliefs and replace them with constructive, beneficial thoughts and perceptions.

Short-term inpatient treatment aims to give a patient intensive treatment, which modifies the 12-step model. Originally designed to help with alcohol or cocaine abuse recovery, this model was adapted to help other substance abuse patients.

The plan involved either a three- or six-week inpatient phase, after which the patient enters a prolonged outpatient program. This includes involvement with a support group and ongoing individualized therapy. The key lies in the constant engagement of the patient to keep them on the road to recovery.

2) Outpatient Addiction Treatment

Outpatient treatment comes in many forms and intensities. These programs generally cost less and work better for people who have a job or have an extensive support system in place. This treatment can be as simple as drug education courses or one-day intensive treatment options, but doesn’t offer the resources of care services that come in an inpatient program.

Group counseling plays a large part in most outpatient plans, and some of these treatment plans include help for patients with other medical or mental health issues.

3) Individually Tailored Drug Counseling

This focuses on helping an individual cut down or eliminate the illicit use of drugs. It also offers help with impaired functionality in life, including limitations on employment, criminal activity or reduced family or social interactions.

The goal is to offer the patient short-term behavioral strategies, which give the patient tools to help them resist and avoid prescription drugs. This program encourages 12-step participation by the patient and can refer the individual to any supplemental care they may need.

4) Group Counseling

This therapeutic approach makes use of social support to help foster recovery. It relies on the presence of peers and discussion to aid in promoting substance and addiction-free lifestyles. Many programs offer a combination of group and individual counseling to maximize recovery potential, as many studies have demonstrated the com

Other forms of group counseling include approaches found in cognitive behavioral therapy or contingency management to achieve similar success.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Care

Does a patient need to live in a residential program or center for painkiller rehab? The answer to that question is maybe.

Firstly, no decision on which approach is best can be made until after an individual has successfully completed phase one of treatment. The initial detox should be done in an inpatient setting, as many painkiller addictions, specifically opioid-related substance dependency, can introduce life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Once phase one has been completed in an inpatient setting, the patient and rehab professionals can decide on the next step. Factors to consider include:

  • What the each program in consideration offers
  • The type and severity of the individual’s addiction
  • The individual’s unique needs and circumstances

Some addictions do not require an intense program. The less strict, more flexible outpatient program will provide them with both care and support. The type of care required is largely defined by the nature of the specific addiction.

Some of the more severe addictions require intense, regimented treatments and isolation from the outside world in order for the individual to recover from their addiction.

Still Unsure of the Proper Path to Recovery?

Many options exist for those in need of help, but which option a person needs varies from individual to individual. Choosing the right path can be confusing, but Addiction Treatment Services can help provide the information needed to make an informed decision. Take your first step on the road to recovery. Contact us for a consultation.

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Opioid Epidemic Is Growing Because of Fentanyl and Heroin - ATS

Deaths From Fentanyl-Laced Heroin Continue to Soar

Deaths From Fentanyl-Laced Heroin Continue To Soar - Addiction Treatment ServicesThe latest data from the CDC indicates that more than 64,000 people died of drug overdoses during 2016. Deaths involving the powerful drug fentanyl, and other synthetic opioids, more than doubled over the previous year and contributed to 20,145 deaths.

A dose containing as little as 3 milligrams of fentanyl can kill. The deadly nature and prevalence of fentanyl-laced heroin make this opioid one of the most serious drug threats of our time.

The Slippery Slope of Drug Addiction

In 2016, the opioid epidemic killed more people than those killed during the entirety of the Vietnam War. The crisis began in the 1990s when doctors began prescribing opioids in increasing volumes for pain management. The health care industry enabled drug dependency for years, inadvertently creating a slippery slope toward illicit drug use.

While many people understand the origin story of the opioid epidemic, they rarely see the factors that continue to fuel the epidemic more than two decades later. Prescription drug use of codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone and others is socially acceptable in many circles. Singers reference using, young people give in to peer pressure, and many doctors will prescribe medications up to the current legal limits.

When the prescription drugs dry up, heroin is cheap and far too easy to access. For less than the price of a pack of cigarettes, individuals can purchase heroin in most areas of any state. Powerful and unregulated, heroin purity and dosing varies widely. Heroin laced with fentanyl and fentanyl analogues are now killing addicted individuals in record numbers.

While more than 20,000 people died from fentanyl-related overdoses in 2016, recent research from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health suggests heroin dependence has more than tripled over the last decade. Millions of people may be at risk for a heroin and/or fentanyl-related overdose, especially men without much income or education. Without intervention, the risks of illicit drug use often turn into realities.

The Scope of the Fentanyl and Heroin Problem in Recent Years

The Sept. 1, 2017 edition of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates a third wave of the opioid epidemic emerged in 2013. Researchers attribute a large percentage of the increase in deaths over the last four years to fentanyl-laced drugs including heroin.

The use of fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances now contribute to more deaths than the use of heroin, prescription opioids, cocaine or methamphetamine alone. In some areas such as Massachusetts, a major center in the opioid crisis, the state Department of Public Health has recorded a decrease in total opioid-related deaths in 2017, yet it’s attributing an ever-increasing number of deaths to fentanyl.

In the Midwest in states such as Ohio, drug overdoses continue to rise. The state attributed more than 4,000 overdose deaths in 2016 to fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances.

Overdose Deaths on the Rise in Several States; Only Minor Progress in Others

Provisional overdose counts according to the CDC from January 2016 to January 2017 indicate:

  • A 71% increase in drug overdose deaths in Delaware
  • A 67% increase in drug overdose deaths in Maryland
  • A 55% increase in drug overdose deaths in Florida
  • A 50% increase in drug overdose deaths in New York City

While the increases often represent major jumps in death rates, the few decreases in the country only represent a mild decline. Overdose counts show:

  • An 8% decrease in drug overdose deaths in Nebraska
  • A 3% decrease in drug overdose deaths in Washington
  • A 3% decrease in drug overdose deaths in Wyoming

The total number of deaths is currently increasing at an unsustainable rate. If the trends of the past four years continue into the future, hundreds of thousands more will die before they receive the treatment needed to overcome a serious addiction.

The data indicates that since 2013, the US has faced more than a third wave of the opioid epidemic. Our country is facing a crisis within a crisis, because fentanyl is far more deadly than any other illicit drug sold today.

Information from the DEA shows law enforcement agencies secured a minimum of 239 kilograms of illegally manufactured fentanyl from 2013 to 2015. No one can say how many more kilograms slipped through the cracks during that time. Two-hundred and thirty-nine kilograms is enough fentanyl to kill tens of millions of people.

The Extreme Dangers of Fentanyl

A mere sprinkle of pure fentanyl can kill. The drug is 50 to 100 times more powerful than the active ingredient in heroin, and illegal drug manufacturers and dealers rarely disclose its presence in heroin. Drug traffickers use the powerful synthetic opioid to maximize profits, but one error can lead to overdose.

Professionals who respond to overdose calls and bust drug trafficking circles are at risk, too. Fentanyl can kill via inhalation or contact with skin. Those who come into contact with fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances such as carfentanil must seek medical intervention quickly to reduce the risk of overdose death.

The effects of fentanyl kick in much faster than the effects of other opioids, and overdose victims may need more than one dose of naloxone to overcome the effects. Anyone who deals, uses or confiscates illegally manufactured fentanyl faces the risks of overdosing.

A Widespread Problem

Celebrities including the singer Prince and Paul Gray, bassist for the band Slipknot, have died from fentanyl-related overdoses in the last few years. Others, including actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cory Monteith, have died from heroin-related overdoses in recent years. These examples underscore the fact that no one is immune from the dangers of heroin and fentanyl.

The problems with heroin and fentanyl extend far beyond celebrity circles. Today, high schoolers, young adults, professionals, parents and others are dying from opioid-related overdoses, many involving fentanyl-laced heroin. In America, drugs cause more accidental deaths than car accidents and shootings; and, the crisis is only spreading.

The UK also noticed a considerable increase in fentanyl-related deaths starting in 2016. More than 60 people have died in the UK from fentanyl-laced drugs since late 2016. In Canada, British Columbia coroners’ reports cited the powerful opioid in roughly 368 overdose deaths over a four-month period in 2017, and Alberta recorded 176 deaths in a five-month period.

Alcohol and drug rehab facilities can successfully curb the rate of death, but only if they reach addicted persons in time. Those addicted to opioids need ongoing treatment and support to overcome dependency and reduce their risk of encountering fentanyl-laced substances.

How to Stage an Intervention for Drug Addiction

The most recent estimates show only 10 percent of individuals with substance use disorders receive the specialized help they need.  Addicted individuals often need the support of sober family members, friends and professional treatment facilities to overcome opioid addictions of all kinds. Intervention help for families is certainly out there, and Addiction Treatment Services specializes in helping families find the right treatment.

Don’t wait to help a loved one make the personal decision to find treatment. Opioids represent a real and dangerous risk that users may not recognize before it’s too late. Stage an intervention with the help of professionals who know and understand opioid addiction.

Addiction Treatment Services believes everyone deserves an opportunity to overcome addiction. We’re here to help connect you to professional interventionists and assist you in your search for effective heroin detox and treatment programs that work with your insurance.

Find Out What Heroin Addiction Rehab Entails

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in May 2014, but was updated in October 2017 to reflect more recent data and developments involving fentanyl, heroin and opioids.

Generic Versions of Suboxone Approved for Treating Addicts

Buprenorphine has been a drug that has changed the addiction treatment industry, and up until now the Suboxone variation (buprenorphine mixed with naloxone) was only available by name brand.  However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved two generic versions of Suboxone in tablet form.

The initial idea behind the drug was to curb opioid withdrawal symptoms while also helping to prevent overdose.  For many millions of people the drug seemed to work wonders, but with most controlled substances there are challenges and Suboxone has been no exception.

A windfall for drug maker Reckitt Benckiser, sales of Suboxone have totaled more than $1 billion annually on what was a steep increase in users from its approval in 2002.

Prescriptions for the drug have increased from about 300,000 in 2004 to well over 5,000,000 annually now.  According toe the FDA, buprenorphine is 20-30 times stronger than morphine and can produce euphoric effects, so even in the Suboxone form there has become a street market for the drug and patients are staying hooked on it as a maintenance drug as well.

Despite Reckitt Benckiser’s attempt to prevent generic forms of Suboxone from hitting the market, these new drugs are a welcome addition to many patients on a financial level.  As pointed out in a recent article in Forbes magazine,  the wholesale average price of Suboxone film strips is about $117 for a 30-day supply of 2mg doses, while a month of 8mg doses is roughly $211.  Generic pricing on tablets should be much cheaper.

What are your thoughts?  Do you feel that generic versions of Suboxone are better for the treatment community?

Treating Opiate Addiction - Addiction Treatment Services

What Does Treating Opiate Addiction Involve?

Opiate and Heroin Treatment - Addiction Treatment Services

Addiction to opiates – also called opioids – is incredibly difficult to break and can cause devastating damage to various aspects of a person’s life. One reason for this is that when someone stops using, they suffer painful withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, withdrawing from a substance can be life-threatening.

The best treatment for heroin addiction or any other kind of opiate (opioid) dependency is medically assisted detox followed by comprehensive addiction therapy. Many people struggling with opiate or opioid addiction are not heroin addicts.

Prescription opioid painkillers are the most commonly misused drugs in the country, but painkiller addiction treatment doesn’t sound as dire as addiction to a street drug does. Because of this, many wait to get the help they need.

Why Opt for Medically Assisted Detox?

Some individuals attempt to “self-detox.” They may fear repercussions and judgment from coworkers and employers for needing to take time off to address their addiction. Others feel determined, believing they can overcome addiction by their own willpower. Some people feel trapped or believe they cannot afford treatment, not realizing detox insurance is something many health insurers offer.

While these reasons are valid, they shouldn’t stop people from getting the help they need; and, rest assured, they do need the help. Self-detox can be dangerous. Because of how difficult it is, repeating the process time and again can make people feel like a failure.

Success rates of detox without the help of a professional treatment center are extremely low. After repeated attempts to detox that eventually lead to relapse, some people feel like they can never be free of their addiction.

The Effects of Opiate (Opioid) Detox

Opiates and opioids are powerfully addictive due to their effect on the human brain. These drugs attach to the brain’s natural opioid receptors, eventually blocking the release of dopamine until the person takes another dose of drugs. Dopamine is the “reward” or “pleasure” neurotransmitter, and most people experience a dopamine release when engaging in pleasurable activities.

An opiate or opioid user will eventually require drugs to feel this sensation, and opiate abuse affects the rest of the body in dramatic ways as well. When a person suddenly stops taking opiates, the body can react in violent and unpleasant ways.

Some of the typical opiate and opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting, which can quickly lead to dehydration
  • Sweating and fever
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Intense cravings

The effects of opiate or opioid addiction will also become more apparent once withdrawal occurs. A person struggling with opiate addiction will likely neglect his or her own health while maintaining the habit.

Many opiate addiction sufferers experience malnutrition and dehydration, which can have a devastating effect on various bodily systems. Without medical assistance, these symptoms can put a person’s life in danger and create serious medical problems later in life.

Medical Assistance in Detox and Rehab

When a person enters detox for opiate or opioid addiction, he or she will receive medical care to flush the last of the drugs out of his or her system. Once the person is free of opiates in his or her system, treatment can start.

Treatment for painkiller addiction requires medical assistance beyond detox. The effects of an opiate dependency can wreak havoc on the body without medical intervention and comprehensive counseling and therapy.

The Need for Therapy

Addiction is deeply rooted in psychology, and therapy can help a person struggling with addiction learn to identify troublesome influences and triggers for addictive behaviors, as well as how to manage cravings responsibly.

In many addiction cases, a person struggling with addiction is also suffering from a mental health condition. These “dual diagnosis” cases require thorough care that addresses both the addiction and the mental health issue simultaneously.

Dual diagnosis cases are difficult to effectively treat, and people who face dual diagnoses are less likely to recover without treatment that addresses both issues.

Finding the Best Treatment Option

If you are considering entering addiction treatment or you are searching for a reputable and reliable rehab program for a loved one, we strongly recommend professional guidance in your search. Our team specializes in helping people struggling with addiction and their families find trusted providers who can work with their individual insurance plans.

Our network offers people seeking addiction treatment the widest variety of options for treatment and more flexibility when it comes to billing. In short, Addiction Treatment Services can help struggling individuals find programs that actually work for them.

Contact us now if you have any questions about your insurance coverage or which treatment options are available to you. Some carriers will pay for opiate detox and other aspects of addiction treatment and recovery. Anyone can break out of opiate or opioid addiction with proper care, but time is a critical factor, so contact us today.

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