Opioid epidemic in America

What Do Opioids Do to Society? Heroin’s Societal Cost and What We Can Do to Help

Last updated on July 1st, 2019 at 12:41 pm

Between the years 1999 and 2017, more than 700,000 people in the United States died from a drug overdose.

Of those 700,000 deaths, nearly 400,000 involved an opioid (either a prescription opioid or an illicit opioid like heroin).

You’ve probably heard people talking about the opioid epidemic over the last few years. What does that really mean, though? What do opioids do to society?

If you’re unsure of the dangers associated with opioids, keep reading.

Explained below are some important facts about heroin and other opioids, as well as the toll they’re taking on people all over the world.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drug. There are a number of drugs, both prescription and illicit, that fall under the opioid umbrella. Some of the most well-known opioids include:

  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Codeine
  • Morphine

Many people begin consuming opioids to help them deal with pain. They may receive a prescription to help them manage chronic pain or acute pain after undergoing surgery or a serious injury.

Opioid drugs, even those that are prescribed by a doctor, are highly addictive. If a person can no longer access prescription opioids, they may turn to heroin in order to find relief.

What Do Opioids Do?

Opioids relieve pain by binding to opioid receptors.

Opioid receptors are present on the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord. They’re also present in the gut and other areas of the body.

When opioids bind to opioid receptors, they block the pain signals sent to the brain.

In addition to relieving pain, opioids can bring on feelings of euphoria, especially when they’re taken in excess. They produce a variety of other effects, too, including the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Shallow breath rate
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness

When they stop taking opioids suddenly, many people experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include shakiness, insomnia, anxiety, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

Effects of Opioids on Society

As you can see, opioid use and abuse can negatively affect people on an individual level. The opioid epidemic is also having some serious impacts on society as a whole.

Opioids and Relationships

Heroin and prescription opioid abuse can negatively impact a variety of relationships. It often affects marriages, friendships, and relationships between parents and children.

Someone who abuses opioids or uses heroin may have a hard time keeping up with their responsibilities.

They may neglect their loved ones and isolate themselves so they can continue using their drug of choice. They may also engage in behaviors that put their loved ones at risk.

Heroin and opioid use are also often associated with financial problems, domestic violence, and loss of custody, all of which create serious issues within families.

Opioids and Crime

Heroin use and opioid abuse can also lead to increases in violence and crime.

Research does not show that opioids make people more violent or prone to lawbreaking. It might exacerbate underlying issues, though, or create a strong sense of desperation and increase the likelihood that people will do things they normally wouldn’t.

Many people turn to crimes like violent robberies and theft to help them fund their addiction. There has also been an increase in gang violence in recent years related to drug cartels that are bringing heroin and other drugs into the United States.

Opioids and Illness

Long-term opioid abuse also increases the likelihood that someone will suffer from serious or chronic illnesses.

Chronic illness is already on the rise in the United States, and the opioid epidemic isn’t making things better.

Using heroin or other opioids long-term can increase one’s risk of dealing with respiratory issues or heart problems. People who use heroin are also at a higher risk of developing infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV.

Because many people who abuse heroin do not have health insurance, the government ultimately becomes responsible for paying for their treatment.

Signs of Opioid Addiction

How do you know if someone is dealing with an opioid addiction? It’s not always easy to tell, but you might notice the following symptoms:

  • Problems with coordination
  • Frequent drowsiness
  • A shallow or slow breathing rate
  • Frequent nausea and/or vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home or at work
  • Isolating themselves from family or friends
  • Slurred speech
  • Mood swings or agitation
  • Decreased motivation
  • Anxiety attacks

An individual who is addicted to opioids may also experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop consuming opioids.

Overcoming Opioid Addiction

To overcome opioid addiction, an individual must first acknowledge that they do, in fact, have an addiction. This can be very difficult to do.

The sooner someone can acknowledge that they have a problem, though, the sooner they can get help and begin recovering.

If you have a loved one who is struggling with opioid addiction, it can be helpful to sit down and talk to them one-on-one and express your concerns. If that doesn’t work, you may want to consider hosting an intervention.

An intervention involves sitting down with your loved one and a group of others who care for them and are concerned about their behavior. Everyone, then, can express their concern and let the person know how their behavior has affected them personally.

Addiction Recovery Options

There are many different treatment options for opioid addiction, including detox programs, inpatient residential treatment, and outpatient treatment.

It’s not ideal for someone to try and overcome opioid addiction on their own. It can even be dangerous because opioid withdrawal symptoms are so severe.

When they receive treatment from professionals, addicts can gain access to medication and other resources that will help minimize withdrawal symptoms and improve their chances of staying sober.

Get Help with Opioid Addiction Today

Do you have a friend or loved one who is showing signs of opioid addiction?

Now that you have a clearer answer to the question—”what do opioids do to society?”—if you see signs of opioid addiction, it’s important to encourage your loved one to seek help.

There are lots of resources out there designed to help those struggling with opioid addiction.

Contact us to learn about options near you or to get more information on the types of treatment available.

References

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

About Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.